The Two Sides of Charlottesville

by: Kat Martin

This past October, I had the chance to visit one of my close friends in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Instead of dealing with the sequel of last semester’s Zoom university, she was participating in a co-op that was roughly 45 minutes out of Charlottesville. Staying home this semester made me miss college life, so I took a COVID test, waited for the negative results, then headed down for a weekend trip to visit my friend.

I didn’t really know what to expect with Charlottesville. I had been to northern Virginia but didn’t know too much about the western part of the state. I had friends who’d considered attending the University of Virginia, all of whom loved the town, but I was still somewhat skeptical of Charlottesville. I remembered the summer of 2017, when the ‘Unite the Right Rally’ devolved into a white supremacy march in downtown Charlottesville. Seeing clips of white men with torches march together was, and still is, terrifying to me. I also thought about Heather Hayer, a counter-protester who was run over and killed. With all that in the back of my mind, I really didn’t know what type of climate we would be walking into.

Despite our apprehension, my friend and I went into Charlottesville with an open mind. And from the minute we got there, we could feel how tight-knit this community is. The downtown area of Charlottesville is almost completely filled with small businesses. Business owners would ask loyal customers about their friends and family, wishing them good health. People from all walks of life seemed to live in and around the town. When walking in downtown Charlottesville, we saw LGBTQ+ flags flying on the corner of stores, Black Lives Matter signs proudly displayed on business and residual windows, and ‘VOTE’ stickers plastered all over lamp posts and streetlights. This emphasis on inclusivity made me realize that Charlottesville is more than that infamous rally.

Everyone we interacted with was respectful and kind. While eating lunch at a local Italian place in downtown Charlottesville, our server suggested we sightsee the University of Virginia and drive through Shenandoah National Park before we left. Taking her advice, we walked around UVA’s college town, which reminded us of Ithaca.

The center of downtown Charolletsville is blocked-off to cars so that people can walk to the local shops and eat outside, which is especially helpful now that we’re all living in the COVID-era.

Much like in Ithaca, there was a sense of comradery between the local college town businesses and the students. Since neither of us is on campus this semester, it was nice feeling like a real college student again.

After we spent time shopping near UVA, we decided to head back to Harrisonburg via Shenandoah National Park. Part of what makes this National Park unique is that it covers most of western Virginia so visitors can actually drive through the park.

Not too far from Charlottesville is Shenandoah National Park, which has breathtaking views like the one pictured above.

Since it was early fall, we saw the beautiful rolling hills begin to turn from evergreen to vibrant shades of red and orange. Ending our trip with this scenic drive gave us time to reflect on our brief time in Charlottesville.

What I liked most about Charlottesville is that it doesn’t let the Unite the Right Rally define it. Once you visit the town, it seems almost impossible that such a hateful event could’ve happened there. In a lot of ways, it showed me that what happened in Charlottesville could happen anywhere. Even though places like Charlottesville have taken strides to promote inclusivity, the white supremacy march is a constant reminder that more work still needs to be done to address systemic hate and oppression in this country.

About the Writer: Kat Martin is a junior in the School of Industrial Labor Relations (Cornell ’22) and is from Cleveland, Ohio. Her favorite city is Sedona, Arizona due to the emphasis on metaphysicality and Native American influences.

About Guac: Guac is an award-winning travel publication run by an interdisciplinary group of students at Cornell University. We aim to inspire our readers to celebrate cultural diversity and view the world with an open mind through delivering unique stories from people around the world.

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