Friday, July 29

Potter Month: Why UVa Was My Hogwarts

Meagan from Little Red's Reading Blog recently shared pictures she took while attending an academic conference at Oxford (congratulations Meagan!). While she was there, she saw some sites that were used as settings in the Harry Potter films. Inspired by Meagan's post, for my last Potter Month contribution, I'm going to share why my alma mater, the University of Virginia, was my Hogwarts.

I visited UVa for the first time on a seventh-grade field trip and fell in love automatically - it was the most beautiful place I had ever seen and the tour was actually really interesting. I decided then that I was a future Cavalier, even though I wasn't at the top of my class and neither of parents had gone to college. Everything I did in high school was to strengthen my application! Over my five years at the University, I think I had quite a few moments when I understood how Harry felt to be at Hogwarts. 

1. Our Founder is kind of a big deal and our grounds are (kind of) haunted - So much of the culture of Hogwarts is based on the values and beliefs of its four founders: Godric Gryffindor, Helga Hufflepuff, Salazar Slytherin, and Rowena Ravenclaw. UVa's culture is still largely influenced by the father of our University, Thomas Jefferson. One of Jefferson's beliefs was that it was impossible to be finished learning, so incoming students are referred to as "first years" and so on. Sound familiar, Potter fans?

While the ghosts at Hogwarts are the real deal (and some people would surely say UVa has that kind, too), I'm using haunted as a metaphor here. After I'd been accepted to UVa my senior year, I had one last opportunity to visit as a high school student, for the state science fair. After I'd finished presenting my project, I took some time to walk around the Academical Village and Carr's Hill by myself. As I walked on the cobblestones, I couldn't help but think about the history of the University, both good and bad, and how many accomplished and intelligent people had walked on those same paths. I got the feeling that I'd never be alone.

2. Hogwarts Houses / UVa Dorms - Much like the Hogwarts Houses, UVa has different dorms for different personalities. Old Dorms tends to attract politicos and Greek lifers, New Dorms tends to be more diverse and laid-back, Brown kids are usually indie and artsy, Gooch/Dillard residents are quiet and scholarly, and Hereford kids will yell at you if you don't recycle. 

While we all filled out an application with our preferences, the choice was ultimately up to the Sorting Hat - er, UVa Housing. The kids in my dorm, Woody, became really close, and there was always something fun going on. I made lifelong friendships and lived with Woody kids for the next two years as well!

3. Secrets! - Hogwarts had the Chamber of Secrets and Dumbledore's Army; UVa has secret societies. Throughout Grounds, they have left their markings on buildings, and the societies do various philanthropic activities in the community or advocate for various principles near and dear to UVa students' hearts. The most secretive of all is the Seven Society - membership is not revealed publicly until a member's death. Members of the Z society wear a special ring at graduation. There are also some less secretive societies - I knew one of my friends was an Imp because she wore an engraved ring, and one of our 4-H officers was a member of a ribbon society called Eli Banana. I was pretty sure one of my fifth-year roommates was in a secret society because she was never home. Or she was a Death Eater.

4. That one super-beloved staff member - In the books, Hagrid serves as Harry's introduction to the magical world, and he becomes a parental figure to the trio while they're at Hogwarts. 

At UVa, we have Mama Kathy, who does so much more than swipe meal cards at Newcomb Hall. During my first week on Grounds, I recognized her from my high school visits, and she said, "Welcome back, baby!" as soon as she saw me. Since I was involved with several student organizations, I was in Newcomb Hall a lot, and Mama Kathy always seemed to know when her babies needed an extra big smile or even a hug. I still make a point to visit her every time I'm back on Grounds.

5. Getting dis-proportionally excited about sports - For most of my time as a student, our football team was not very strong, but that didn't stop students from acting like Hogwarts students at a Quidditch match, from completely blue-and-orange outfits and face paint, to one of our RA's who ran around shirtless in November with a rotisserie chicken (representing the Viginia Tech Hokies, of course) on a plastic sword (for Cav Man).

The irony of UVa athletics is that since most of the state of Virginia is obsessed with football, our programs don't always get the media attention they deserve. In 2015, the Cavaliers held the men's NCAA titles in soccer, baseball, and tennis, and hold the ACC record for national championships in men's sports. UVa also has 14 current students, 2 former students, and 2 coaches currently headed to the Olympics in Rio.

6. The Corner = Hogmeade. Hogwarts students get excited about butterbeer from the Three Broomsticks and candy from Honeydukes. We got excited about soup in a bread bowl from Jabberwocky, Gusburgers from The White Spot, secret sauce from Take It Away, and Bodo's bagels.

7. Break out the dress robes - Our equivalent of the Yule Ball was the Harvest Ball, which usually had a fun theme like Casino Royale. 

At UVa, there's some kind of formal dance going on just about every weekend because we have so many student organizations, fraternities, and sororities, so it's not unusual to see girls in sky-high heels and ballgowns and boys in suits and ties hitting the bars on the Corner in the wee hours of the morning.

8. Prefects = Res Life Staff. Student self-governance is a huge part of UVa life, and our residence system is almost completely student-run. I was a Resident Adviser in upperclass housing during my fourth year. Just like Percy Weasley, I had the power to punish students (it was called a VSOC, for Violation of Standards of Conduct, like underage alcohol possession), and had to patrol at night - not to make sure no one was breaking curfew, like at Hogwarts, but to make sure no one was passed out on the sidewalk. It happens. While Hogwarts prefects get their own special bathroom, I got a whole apartment that I shared with another RA!

9. The McGregor Room is definitely a Hogwarts common room - The most wonderful study spot in the world, in the bottom of Alderman Library, was unveiled when I was in school. Oriental rugs! Fireplaces! Chandeliers! Gorgeous bookshelves with ladders! Also a great place to nap. It's lovingly nicknamed the "Harry Potter room."

10. Some strict professors, and some amazing professors - I was trying to remember if I encountered any Snapes or Umbridges during my time at UVa, and I thought of my Environmental Science professor, who would actually drop students from the course if their cellphones rang in class. 

We have professors that are actually more famous than Gilderoy Lockhart, like Larry Sabato, who can often be seen on shows like Meet the Press explaining American politics, and poet Rita Dove. I had a drama professor who was a bit like Slughorn in that she liked to name-drop famous alumni like Tina Fey, Benjamin McKenzie, and Sean Patrick Thomas. I was lucky to have a lot of professors who were more like McGonnagal, Lupin, and Dumbledore - caring, passionate about teaching, and all with their own quirks!


  1. Hi Heather! It's Meagan from Little Red's Reading Blog. I have to say, I just started my blog at the end of May and no one has read it apart from my sister so it is SO nice to see that not only someone read one of my posts but that it inspired you to write your own! You made my day! I love your post about how your school was like your very own Hogwarts. It was the same for me at both my universities (the first for my BA and the other for my MA, luckily for me my schools are also really old, for Canada anyway, and some buildings look like castles). Great post!!!

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