Students and members of the Descendants of Enslaved Communities at UVA at the Memorial for Enslaved Laborers

Curriculum in Race, Place, and Equity

Explore our past and present course offerings.

The Mellon RPE program supports curriculum development that fosters nuanced understanding of the intersections of race, place, and equity. A series of Advising Seminars in the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Architecture introduce first-year students at UVA to local, place-based histories and legacies that have shaped the University and Central Virginia. Three-credit courses featuring community partnerships and place-based, community-engaged teaching help build an outward looking, public-service university. Additionally, a series of short educational videos will highlight aspects of UVA’s historical racial legacy and current cultural landscape.

These courses and related programs are co-created with community partners from the Descendants of Enslaved Communities at UVA, the Monacan Indian Nation, Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, and the Montpelier Descendants Committee. A foundational premise of the grant is that university faculty, staff, and students work with community partners in a reciprocal manner to further the equity-based missions of community groups, and provide UVA students with a variety of perspectives, expertise, and lived experiences. The aim is to help prepare students for a lifetime of community engagement and responsible citizenship.

We are thrilled by the success of these courses, which generate tremendous enthusiasm from professors, students, and community members.

Photo credit: Catherine Walden

RPE Course Catalog 

Years and semesters taught are included in course descriptions.


Supporting Our Community around 10th and Page: Social Equity and Early Childhood Education | Angeline Lillard


This College Advising (COLA) seminar centers around a partnership between the Psychology Department, the Equity Center, and two community organizations to provide Montessori childcare in an area called 10th and Page. We will explore Charlottesville, the University, how culture shapes us, the processes of science, and alternatives to our standard education. The course will journey through Charlottesville places towards a reconceptualization of how we educate children in a way that corresponds to natural human learning. The Black and White experience will be woven throughout, with an eye to how these invented “races” may one day return to the fact that we are really one humanity, temporarily and historically separated by myths and policies made to support them. You will be introduced to basic Child Psychology in the context of place and community-engaged research. [offered Fall 2021 and Fall 2022]


Walking Charlottesville: Exploring Race and Place through Writing | Kate Stephenson


This seminar will explore the connections between walking, writing, social justice, and activism. By walking together, we will learn about the places and histories around us. The course will be structured around biweekly walks themed around race and social justice. Walks will include a tour of Vinegar Hill (arranged with The Jefferson School), a housing walk (in partnership with Map Cville and The Haven), an African-American history tour of Grounds, as well as walks to particular places on Grounds, including The Memorial to Enslaved Laborers, the Kitty Foster Memorial, and The University Cemetery. A trip to the Monacan Indian Nation Ancestral Museum is also possible. All walks and place-based visits will include time for reflective writing. Readings will include, but are not limited to, selections from The Color of Law (Richard Rothstein), The New Jim Crow (Michelle Alexander), Why are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria (Beverley Tatum), Eloquent Rage (Brittney Cooper), Between the World and Me (Ta-Nehisi Coates), Charlottesville 2017 (Louis Nelson and Claudrena Harold, eds.), and The Monacan Indian Nation of Virginia: The Drums of Life (Rosemary Whitlock). Literary texts will include selected poems and short stories by local authors. [offered Fall 2021]


Feeling Race in Space | Rose Buckelew


How do we "feel" race? How are "feelings" of race shared collectively and shaped by our social settings and physical environments? Through a sociological perspective, this course will explore collective feelings of race within and beyond the space of UVA. We will spend time learning the histories of our physical environment, paying special attention to how the environment shapes differentiated racialized emotions. We will learn how students make space on Grounds to foster racialized emotions of attachment, affiliation, and community. This course will offer you an opportunity to practice self-reflective writing and explore our shared environment. [offered Fall 2021]


Religion, Tradition, and Social Justice in Charlottesville | Nichole Flores


In August 2017, religious leaders were on the frontlines of the counterprotest against the white supremacist violence of the Unite the Right rally that rocked the very stability of democracy in the US. Long before those hot summer days, however, religious institutions had figured prominently in shaping Charlottesville's politics, culture, and even cityscape. Religious communities—theologically progressive, centrist, and conservative alike—have often been a force for social justice—including racial justice, immigration justice, and most recently public health justice—in Charlottesville. Even so, religious institutions have also been integral in advancing themes of tradition, heritage, and respectability that shape the city’s culture. While these themes have often been invoked in support of social justice advocacy, they have also been leveraged at times as a force in support of segregation, white supremacy, and acquiescence to pervasive systems of social injustice such as gentrification, violence, and poverty. A comprehensive view of Charlottesville’s past, present, and future requires attention to the role of religious communities—their beliefs, practices, communities, advocacy, and sacred spaces—in shaping democratic practices, culture, and even the cityscape in Charlottesville. Anchored by readings on religious and democracy and the history of religion in Charlottesville and at UVA, this seminar will curate conversations between students and various clergy, religious activists, and institutions in Charlottesville about their work for justice in the city with a particular eye toward racial justice and equity before, during, and after the events of August 11 & 12. From religious leaders who were on the frontlines of non-violent counterprotest to pastors who organized prayer services but discouraged their members from directly protesting the white supremacist rioters to Jewish leaders who had to revise their understanding of religious freedom and physical safety after their synagogue became a target of violence, these conversations will allow students to probe enduring questions about the role of race, place, and equity in a pluralistic democracy by examining them in the particular religious history and context of Charlottesville. The seminar will also allow students to develop a more nuanced accounts of religion, justice, and tradition and how these concepts operate in our local, national, and global common life. [offered Fall 2021 and Fall 2022]


Back in the Picture: Enslaved Laborers and their Descendants at UVA | Lilian Feitosa


In this course, we will collaborate with the Descendants of the Enslaved Communities and the Equity Center to learn about the role of slavery in the history of the University of Virginia, and recent efforts to document this history and bring its centrality into view. We will learn about enslavement in Thomas Jefferson's Monticello and how it is represented in books for younger readers and history books. We will have a guided visit to UVA's Memorial to Enslaved Laborers and do the UVA Walking Tour about Enslaved African Americans at the University. We will also read and discuss the report of the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University. There will be various field trip opportunities possibly to Monticello, Highlands, and Montpelier and we will have the chance to hear directly from various Descendants of the Enslaved Communities. [offered Fall 2021, 2022, and 2023]


Home Away from Home: The narratives of African Refugees | Anne Rotich


This course examines the experiences of African refugees through the lens of race, ethnicity, and migration. We discuss notions of displacement, genocide, ethnic and racial formation among other factors. Through interaction with the International Rescue Committee in Charlottesville, students will engage African refugees and immigrants in the area as we address some key issues they face as they create new homes, such as cultural barriers, language barriers, racism, and other societal issues. Utilizing literary texts, we will examine the historical roots of ethnic and racial conflicts, causes of displacement, and what it means to be a ‘refugee’. It is expected that this experiential learning will help students understand notions of being an immigrant and a refugee away from home and develop mutually beneficial ways of engaging refugees. This course is intended to engage the African refugees in Charlottesville area. I will bring in speakers from the community to the classroom in case of virtual learning and I will work with International Rescue Committee in Charlottesville to discuss opportunities that can be available for COLA students to interact and engage our African community members. Some opportunities that am thinking of can be; students meeting the community members in the community gardens or local markets around Charlottesville organized by IRC; or spending a day volunteering at the IRC. Such meetings are intended to be interactive for the students while supporting local activities. [offered Fall 2021, 2022, and 2023]


Charlottesville and UVA in Black and White | John Mason


Charlottesville and UVA in Black and White blends local history with the history of photography. Through the study of century-old photographs, students will develop an understanding of the intersecting histories of the city's Black and White communities and of the relationship between the university and the city. They will come to see how the past lives on in the present and shapes their experiences as college students and citizens. They will also gain experience working with primary sources, the raw material of history. The course revolves around the Holsinger Collection, an online archive of 10,000 photographs that were made by Charlottesville photographer R.W. Holsinger at the height of the Jim Crow era. These images depict a great array of subjects, shedding light on how the racial hierarchy was constructed and contested, in the city and at the university. Like all COLA classes, Charlottesville and UVA in Black and White will devote a significant amount of time to academic and advising issues. [offered Fall 2021]


Marked & Unmarked: Remembering the Dead in Charlottesville | Natasha Heller


Thomas Jefferson stood on the banks of the Rivanna River and decided to excavate Monacan burial mounds, wishing to understand their burial customs. His home at Monticello is the site of his own obelisk and the graves of his family; the people he enslaved received no such commemoration when they passed away. How the dead were treated was a matter of concern for the University of Virginia’s founder, and is equally important today. This COLA will consider how individuals are commemorated after their death, and how these acts of remembrance—or their impossibility—shape communities. We will consider cemeteries and burial sites in Charlottesville and Albemarle county (including the Daughters of Zion Cemetery and the University Cemetery), looking both at how individuals are memorialized and how cemeteries are maintained as sites for community history. We will contextualize these sites within the movement to recover and preserve African American cemeteries in the South. [offered Fall 2021]


What's in a Name? Negotiating Race and Local Spaces | Shilpa Davé


In his article, “A Rose by Any Other Name,” Daniel Nakashima discusses how language and race, and the politics of naming are particularly loaded and complicated for people with multi-racial heritage.  He says, “in a diverse society, we read names as signifiers not only of one’s individual identity and membership in a particular family, but of one’s membership in a particular racial/ethnic, and or cultural group." (114)

Using an interdisciplinary approach involving media, literature, art, and history, this class explores the heritage and background of our personal names and how we think about naming in our own local spaces at UVA and Charlottesville and other spaces. How does naming and the ability to name create, challenge, and modify the history of the place around us? How do names indicate cultural/ethnic/racial identity and how do names complicate multi-racial identity and immigrant stories? What are the local indigenous names that we know about and how have they changed?  Students will visit special collections at UVA and engage with community groups to learn about the history of community group names and building names. [offered Fall 2022]


Multilingual UVA | Kate Kostelnik


In this COLA we’ll learn about contrastive rhetorics, code meshing, and anti-racist pedagogies; specifically, we’ll look at how the UVA Writing Center supports multilingual and second-dialect writers on Grounds. In addition to discussing the purposes and pedagogies of writing centers, students will observe writing center sessions, use the center to work on their own writing, and learn from scholars who will speak on African American English, World Englishes, Students’ Rights to Their own Language, and the writing center’s role in “promoting a more multicultural and multilingual worldview." Additionally, students will explore and write about spaces and organizations that support multilingual and multicultural students, faculty, and staff on Grounds (MCS, OAAA, and VISAS). We’ll also visit community spaces and learn about local organizations (Sin Barreras, International Neighbors, and Computers 4 Kids) and volunteer opportunities in Charlottesville. First-years will learn about collaborating with multilingual members of the community and tutors in the writing center, a service that will support them throughout their UVA careers. Although appealing to all students wishing to understand our diverse university and city, this COLA will specifically avail multilingual and international students to campus resources and opportunities to connect with Charlottesville’s significant international and refugee community.

Students will learn from established scholars of multilingual learning, African American English, and Writing Center Studies. Additionally, students will engage with multilingual and multicultural spaces on grounds and in the community. [offered Fall 2022]


Charlottesville's Forgotten Civil War History | Brian Neumann


For more than a century, the public memory of the Civil War in Albemarle County, Virginia, focused almost entirely on the area’s Confederate history. Local leaders unveiled towering Confederate monuments and claimed that the county had staunchly and overwhelmingly supported the Confederacy. This public memory, however, marginalized and excluded African Americans, who made up the majority of the county’s 19th-century population. This COLA course helps uncover their stories, shedding light on the 257 Black men from Albemarle County who served in the Union army. Building on the Nau Civil War Center’s Black Virginians in Blue digital project, this course uses these local stories to examine national themes. It underscores the tragedies of the domestic slave trade and the hardships of military service. It demonstrates African Americans’ determination to assert their freedom, serve their country, and demand justice and equality in the wake of war. And it highlights the fault lines within the Civil War South, and the centrality of Black Southern Unionists to the defeat of the Confederacy. [offered Fall 2022 and 2023]


Performing Acts of Justice and Equity | Eric Ramírez-Weaver


This COLA course will introduce students to the transformative possibilities of community-based theater and dance. Emphasizing the rich resources in central Virginia from Charlottesville to Richmond, we explore the local history of the Theater Owners Booking Association (TOBA), and the ways that vaudeville and tap dance have played a prominent role in defining social and cultural mores, or reflected the inequalities of the Jim Crow era. This course will explore twin dual trajectories. On the one hand, the life and legacy of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, as cultivated through the enduring work of the Copasetics, supplies one personal connection to this material. The Copasetics through Charles “Honi” Coles and Brenda Bufalino trained my teachers at the American Tap Dance Foundation. On the other hand, students will learn through a series of public outreaches how to study performance historically, and how to use performance to tell the living history of great performers. The graded work for the course will result in a public performance of student composed, rehearsed and performed work, celebrating the legacy and contributions of African-American artists in our region of Virginia. Our community partners include: the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, Paramount Theater, Live Arts, and Charlottesville Ballet. [offered Fall 2022 and 2023]


Slavery and the Racial Legacies of the Founders | Tyson Reeder


How should public commemorations (monuments, art, ceremonies, exhibits) reflect the paradoxical histories of freedom and slavery in the United States? In this course, you will uncover and analyze the complicated legacies of freedom and slavery bequeathed by two founders who lived in the Charlottesville area—James Madison and Thomas Jefferson. During the first part of the course, you will learn the historical context of slavery and liberty in Madison and Jefferson’s Virginia. You will then possess the tools necessary to analyze the ways many Americans are using art, music, and museum exhibits to confront or reconcile their seemingly contradictory legacies. In addition to helping you appreciate America’s nuanced past, this course will help you develop essential skills of evidence evaluation, critical thinking, and persuasive writing and speaking. It will give you tools and skills you need to meet success at UVA and beyond. [offered Fall 2022]


Statistics Under a Qualitative Mental Model | Dan Spitzner


This course explores the intersections of statistical practice with research modes that emphasize the social context of inquiry, and whose aims may derive from ethical rather than scientific criteria. It takes a student through survey-level discussions of non-traditional, socially-aware quantitative methodologies, some of which overlap with qualitative methodologies, arts-based inquiry, and community-based practices. It furthermore explores the involvement of the statistics discipline in unethical projects such as eugenics, and circumstances surrounding the reputation once earned by the University of Virginia as a “center of scientific racism. [offered Fall 2023]


My Story, Everyone’s Story | Stella Mattioli


In this class students will read & learn about histories of immigrants in Virginia, & will work on a project about their own family history. The goal of the class is to give students a better sense of how the personal history of every individual & every family shape the history of a place & of a bigger community. This will help students to embrace more easily the prospect of equity & anti-racism, for which a shift in perspective is often needed. [offered Fall 2023]


Case Studies in Identity, Place, and Architecture | Elgin Cleckley and Lisa Reilly


This course introduces first year students to the history and legacies that have shaped Charlottesville and Central Virginia through on-site analysis of the built environment. Questions to be asked include: What does the built environment of the past tell us about how those spaces and places might be understood and experienced by different groups of people? How do these places continue to shape our experiences and expectations? By considering architecture as a form of culture production, students will have the opportunity to reflect on how the complex interplay of factors such as race, class, politics, and economics affect all aspects of the built environment – from zoning to environmental factors, to “high-style design” to the vernacular as an introduction to the disciplines of the School of Architecture. [offered Fall 2021 as two classes]


Race, Place, and Equity | Betsy Roettger


The course will begin by considering places we know well and reflecting on how they reinforce our own identities. Then we will explore places at the School of Architecture, the University of Virginia, and around Charlottesville, Virginia. In thinking about how places are designed, who designs them, and who they are designed for, students will consider their future role in designing/ planning/ working towards more equitable spaces and communities. This year, the course will benefit from funding and teaching support from the Mellon Foundation to support learning and teaching about racial equity and democracy. [offered Fall 2021 and 2022]


Reparative History: Site, Archive, Database/Mapping Black Landscapes | Lisa Goff


Students will learn to use digital mapping and narratives as tools of reparative history. The class will partner with community organizations documenting Black history in Virginia. Students will do research in historical archives and public records; interview community members; and participate in field work. Readings will address ethical aspects of doing community history and explore approaches to the history of slavery and Reconstruction. [offered Spring 2023 and 2024] 


Swahili Beginner Class | Anne Rotich


Classes meet with Charlottesville Swahili refugees and immigrants from East Africa to engage with them about their journeys and cultures and to practice speaking Swahili. Students participate in these conversations in-person at the UVA Language Commons Lab and online. Later in the semester, students visit the Madison House kitchen where they learn how to make East African Samosas and traditional chai tea using imported Kenyan tea! Ending the semester strong, Swahili students and community members are invited to watch a Swahili film and discuss the socio-cultural and political themes in the movie as they relate to themes learned in class about East Africa. [last taught Fall 2024]


Community Engagement in Spanish-Speaking Charlottesville | Esther Poveda


Sí se puede: Community Engagement in Spanish-Speaking Charlottesville is a Spanish conversation course on the history and the experiences of the Spanish-speaking population in the USA.  This course will connect UVA students with the Hispanic community in the Charlottesville area by working with community organizations in community engagement projects . In class, we will engage in an exploration of the history and cultural productions of Spanish-speaking communities and individuals in the USA through a variety of documents (written and oral), and through conversations with leaders in our Latino Community. We will work to answer questions such as why Spanish is considered a “foreign” language in the USA and why the USA has the second largest Spanish speaking population. Throughout the semester, we will also relect on how language learning is a rewarding and continuous process that allows us to better understand ourselves, to communicate with others, and to construct a more tolerant and fair world around us. [offered Spring 2024 and Spring 2023] 


Collaborative Planning for Sustainability: Equitable Collaboration" with Health Equity & Access in Rural Regions (HEARR) | Frank Dukes


Collaborative Planning for Sustainability asserts that communities can only be sustained ecologically, socially, and economically by community members working together to solve problems. Most people yearn for ways to engage one another productively to care for their environment and their communities. Such caring can engender conflict, but when done well, authentic collaborative planning can transform civic disarray into civic virtue. [offered Fall 2020 through Fall 2024] 


Environmental Law and Community Engagement Clinic | Cale Jaffe


The clinic has represented a diverse array of public-interest clients in recent years, from a community group working to preserve an early 20th-century black schoolhouse, to local governments filing an amicus brief in the Supreme Court of the United States. In addition to working on in-house clinic cases, students also have the option of working closely with attorneys at the Southern Environmental Law Center, a nationally prominent environmental law and policy organization that is headquartered in Charlottesville. The clinic is available to new students in both fall and spring. Students participating in the fall may request to continue to the advanced clinic in the spring, on a first come, first served basis.


Introduction to Native American Indigenous Studies: (Mis)Representations | Kasey Jernigan


This class offers an introduction to the broad field of Native American studies with a focus on the themes of identity and (mis)representation. We will draw on work in anthropology, history, literature, art, film, politics, and current events to explore the complex relationship between historical and contemporary issues that Indigenous peoples face in North America, with a focus on the United States. This class also pays special attention to “survivance” in Native communities and the creative ways that Native peoples and communities engage with social media, art, design, film, activism, and more, to reclaim and reshape Native representations and Native imaginings. A key feature of this course is the collaboration with The Center at Belvedere, Charlottesville’s community hub for seniors offering multidimensional programming to support healthy aging and wellbeing. This is a natural partnership, as within Native American and Indigenous communities, elders are recognized as important knowledge keepers, ensuring cultural continuity. Although The Center has a small community of Indigenous elders, we acknowledge all older people as living connections to the past who serve as valued teachers, protectors, mentors, keepers of wisdom, and advisors. This community-engaged course offers the opportunity for undergraduate students and local elders to engage in conversation about the First Peoples of this land. [offered Fall 2022] 


Curating Sound: Art, Ethnography and Community Practice | Noel Lobley


This practical and discovery-driven design course explores the intersections of curatorial practice, sound studies, ethnography, composition, sound art, and community arts practice, through a series of engagements linking archival collections, local and international artists and art and community spaces, and the method and philosophies of embodied and experiential deep listening. Drawing from both the histories and potential affordances of sound curation we engage with practical examples ranging from sub-Saharan Africa to Australia, from Europe to New York, and right back here to the Charlottesville and UVA communities, asking what it means to curate local sound within globalized arts circuits. We will explore multiple and diverse case studies where artists, curators, communities, industries and institutions have both collaborated and clashed, as we ask whether it is desirable or even possible to curate the elusive, invasive and ephemeral object, medium and experience of sound.

Throughout the entire course we will be working closely with professional artists and curators most notably Around HipHop Live Café and the Black Power Station based in Makhanda, South Africa, the Kluge Ruhe Museum of Aboriginal Art, and the UVA Scholars Lab. [offered Fall 2022]


Hanoi’s Hong River: Development, Climate, and Rights to the City | Spencer Phillips 


UVA students, working with Vietnamese counterparts and local experts, use problem-based learning to better understand the complex ecological-economic relationships between people and nature in Hanoi, Vietnam. We use problem-based learning to examine options for conservation, economic development, and improved quality of life while experiencing the rich culture of this ancient and vibrant city. [offered Summer 2023] 


Oral History Workshop | Grace Hale


We begin by reading and thinking about oral history methodologies and participating in various training workshops.  Then we spend our last eight weeks doing oral history and related research as part of the Piedmont Environmental Council’s project to document and add African American landowners to the Southwest Mountains Rural Historic District.  This course requires fieldwork and/or research in documents both on and off line.  Some of that work happens during class time but most happens as your “homework” outside of class time.  In this sense, this course is as much a job as a class.  The work we do individually and together shapes what future generations know about the history of central Virginia.  

Course learning objectives:

  1. Think deeply about what counts as history and the relationship between history, archives, and democracy.
  2. Understand the practice of oral history or interviewing people as a historical methodology and gain hands on experience.
  3. Learn how to do related research surveying historical properties, creating inventories of historical structures, and researching individuals in genealogical and newspaper records.
  4. Contribute to the process of creating a more democratic history of Virginia.

    [offered Fall 2022]  


Intermediate New Media: Socially-Engaged Productions | Federico Cuatlacuatl


Professor Federico Cuatlacuatl's New Media courses have been developing experimental animations exploring different contemporary thematics. Introduction to New Media II, ARTS 2222, will feature short experimental animations with an emphasis on socially engaged productions, bringing awareness and highlighting pressing societal urgencies as explored through each student's animations. [offered Spring 2023]


Sex, Spirits & Sorcery: Modern Aboriginal Art | Henry Skerritt


Located in Australia's tropical north, Arnhem Land has long been one of the epicenters of the modern Aboriginal art movement. The art of the region opens a window onto another world: a world in which ancestral spirits remain a constant presence in the land. Using the world-class holdings of the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection, we'll explore the art of Arnhem Land from 1911 to the present. Throughout the course, we will also have multiple opportunities to engage with and learn directly from Australian Indigenous artists and knowledge-holders. [offered Spring 2021 through Spring 2024]


Decarceration and Community Reentry Clinic | Kelly Orians


This clinic aims to help students understand mass incarceration and develop legal skills to support formerly incarcerated people and their families. It also focuses on empowering clients and their communities to drive systemic change and local economic development. In January 2022, the Clinic engaged the organization Resilience Education (RE) in order to explore the feasibility of creating a curriculum to be taught by law students to incarcerated students in Virginia prisons. In the fall semester of 2023, the Clinic reached a stage in its development where it could support a law-student-led short course comprised of five classes. [last offered Spring 2024]


American History from the Ground Up – Spanish | Daniel Doncel Martin 


This course offers a general view of the history of the Americas, hispanophone as well as anglophone, with a focus on their development as it pertains to imperialism, colonialism, and slavery. Students will learn how to consider the situation of different American countries not just as isolated entities, but as the product of socioeconomic processes that connect them with each other and with the rest of the world. Through a series of theoretical, historiographical, and political readings, students will become familiar with intellectual traditions that thing the Americas as a coherent concept beyond the boundaries of the nation-state.

This course is a beneficiary of the Andrew Mellon Foundation through the Race, Place, and Equity Center Community Engagement Grant. As an integral part of the class, members of the Charlottesville Spanish-speaking community, on the one hand, and students of Spanish at the University of Virginia, on the other, will share semesters, classrooms, and discussions. To avoid centering this community-engaged project on places not readily available for people who are not affiliated with the University of Virginia, classes will be held at the Equity Center in downtown Charlottesville, with transportation expenses being covered by the grant funds. The grant will also cover books, photocopies, and other necessary expenses: the course is free for every registered student. [offered Fall 2024 and Spring 2025]