Community members urge UVa working group to hold President Ryan to priorities

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The report on community priorities for action by the University of Virginia is out, but the work of the committee that produced the report is not quite done.

The University-Community Working Group, established by UVa President Jim Ryan in the fall, met Thursday at Charlottesville High School to summarize the report for the community and to answer community questions. Roughly 40 to 50 people attended, working group appointees sitting next to members of the community in a circle of chairs.

Several community members asked the working group to keep their channel of communication with the president open.

“He is a busy man. There are lots of things on his plate, and I do think that the working group is going to have to check in regularly with him so this [report] isn’t put on the shelf,” said community member Perri Rush Brown.

“If the working group doesn’t do it, yeah, I guess I could mosey on up to his door and see what’s happening with it, but I think that your work isn’t done here. I don’t know who else would do it.”

Charlene Green, who manages the Charlottesville Office of Human Rights and is a member of the working group, has experienced multiple rounds of advising UVa presidents and maintaining accountability.

Green was part of the commission that created the university’s Chief Office for Diversity and Equity under President John Casteen. She said that when Teresa A. Sullivan became president, there was a plan to reorganize the administration so the equity office did not report directly to the president.

“That small group of us got together and we said it’s time to knock on the president’s door,” Green said.

The priorities the working group outlined in the report, based on community surveys, were equal access to jobs, housing, health care and education. One week after the release of the report, on March 7, the president and the Board of Visitors announced that the university was raising the minimum wage of its full-time employees to $15 an hour.

Green said that the community has to keep the expectation of action alive, in case the working group eventually disperses.

“I think if we don’t hold the powers-that-be’s feet to the fire and say, ‘You said you were going to do these things, and it hasn’t been done.’ I think that’s going to push us back in ways that we can’t even begin to measure,” Green said.

Working group members described the reluctance of many older African-American community members to take the working group’s survey, citing the many surveys they had contributed to without seeing anything change.

Reporting back to the community was one way of showing transparency and accountability, said Brennan Gould, committee member and president of the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation. The working group also is sending out the report through organizations, like the Charlottesville Food Justice Network and the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, that helped collect online survey responses.

Several event attendees said that they walked away from the conversation feeling hopeful.

“I wanted to thank you guys for your hard work, all of you that were on the committee,” attendee Nicole Robinson said at the end of the event.

Working group members said that they will be watching where community priorities fit into Ryan’s strategic plan. The expected date of completion for a draft plan is June.