PULASKI COUNTY, Va. – It's the thick of college application season and for many high school seniors, and it can be a very exciting time.
But a Pulaski County family is anything but excited about a recruitment letter sent by the University of Virginia to their daughter.
It starts out praising her good grades, before making the letter all about race.
The family told 10 News that while raising a mixed-race family, they've never boiled their lives down to race.
But they feel the letter signed by the university president does, and they couldn't believe their eyes.
Allisen Haynes is probably one of the few students with a snow day tomorrow, actually doing their homework tonight.
The Pulaski County High School senior is at the top of her class, headed to Virginia Tech -- but rivalries had no bearing on her jaw hitting the floor.
"You may think it's easy for me to say as a white man and it's true that I can't completely understand how you feel or the pressures you will face," read Allisen.
University of Virginia President James Ryan wrote that phrase in an unsolicited letter to Allisen earlier this week. It began by praising her academics but then launched into her mixed race.
"I couldn't get over the as a white man part, I just didn't understand why that had to be brought in because I didn't know that, didn't need to know that and then afterwards they listed like a bunch of clubs I could join when I got there," said Allisen. "I guess that was welcoming, but it just kind of sounded like they were specifically saying hey you're black, we're OK with that."
The letter went on to state that the institution has for most of its history been home predominantly to white men. That has changed over the last several decades to the point where it now admits more African-American students than any other top 25 school.
"It never should have been mentioned in the letter, because even though they said what they offered her and how happy they would be to receive her, what the man didn't understand is there are some things you just don't need to say," said Allisen's mom, Kimberleigh Haynes.
UVA says the letter is legitimate but the Haynes are unsure how they even got on their list.
Universities routinely buy student information from College Board, the company behind the SATs.
Allisen said she did voluntarily identify as black when she tested, but it's unclear if this is how UVA connected the dots.
In a statement, the University says it recruits students with strong, demonstrated academic backgrounds and that it has sent similar letters in the past to ensure qualified students from underrepresented groups consider UVA for admission.
"I think it's good that they're reaching out to everybody. That's wonderful, but leave their race out of it. It has nothing to do with their academic achievements," said Kimberleigh.
The university would not say whether the language has anything to do with the campus and city of Charlottesville finding itself the unintentional powder keg of current race relations.
Allisen received other recruitment letters from many other schools as well, but none quite like the one from UVA.
"It was probably an accident, they probably didn't mean it like that, it was just how it came off. I just wish that race wouldn't be brought into it," said Allisen.
The university has made a concerted effort to increase diversity on campus, enrolling its most diverse class last fall.
Below is a copy of the full letter:
I write to congratulate you on your success in high school and to introduce you to the University of Virginia. You will have the opportunity to apply to the most prestigious colleges and universities in the country, and as you continue your search, I encourage you to consider UVA.
I say this not only because UVA is an outstanding school, or because what you learn here and the relationships you build here will enrich your life in countless ways. Both are true, but you don’t need me to tell you either one. Instead, I believe you should consider UVA because, in addition to being a place that will open doors you never know existed, you will also find a home here.
You may think that’s easy for me to say as a white man, and it’s true that I can’t completely understand how you feel or the pressures you will face. At the end of the day, where you deice to spend the next four years is an extremely personal choice.
But as a first-generation student, I know how important it is to find a school that is both welcoming and supportive. UVA is an incredibly caring community, with faculty, staff, and students who will care not only about how you do in the classroom, but how you do outside of the classroom as well.
I also recognize that this is an institution that has, for most of its history, been home predominantly to white men. But that has changed over the last several decades, to the point where we now admit more African American students than any other top-25 school, and have the highest graduation rate for black students among all of the nation’s public universities.
We also have programs and organizations – life the Center for Undergraduate Excellence, the Black Student Alliance, the Office of African American Affairs, and the Office for Diversity and Equity – to support you and help you succeed. And our Black Alumni Weekend offers an opportunity for students to connect and network with successful alumni. If you’re interested in hearing what other students have had to say about their experiences at UVA, you can visit https://voices.admission.virginia.edu/
I was only able to go to college thanks to scholarships and the hard-earned savings of my parents. At UVA we want to make it possible for anyone who is qualified to come here, regardless of their ability to pay. It’s why earlier this year we made a promise that Virginia families who earn less than $80,000 a year and have typical assets will be able to send their children to UVA tuition-free. For Virginia families earning less than $30,000 a year we will also cover room and board. You can visit http://sfs.virginia.edu/newstudents to find out more.
For all these reasons, I am confident that you will look back on your time here as four of the best and most important years in your life. Please accept my best wishes, and as you prepare to make a decision about college, I hope the University of Virginia will be at the top of your list.
James E. Ryan
University of Virginia