summer blog 2015

Summer 2015 Blog Series

s u m m e r  2 0 1 5 ,  a s  c h r o n i c l e d  b y  h i t t a s

The members of HIT have had quite eventful summers, to say the least. Whether dedicating themselves to internships across the globe, traveling extensively, or furthering their studies beyond UVA, HITtas have stretched themselves this summer, bringing back diverse experience to the group and larger university community. Although each of us spent our vacations in different locations, participating in different activities, we all share the desire to reunite in two short weeks and continue making music as a group.

n a t a l i e  p e r n i c k  -  s e c o n d  y e a r


I got to go home for the first time in 6 months! As much as I love dear old UVA, I’ve really missed the land of cheese and chocolate – and my lovely family of course (hi, mom). That said, I got to leave it for a week and substituted the beautiful Swiss scenery for the quaint streets of Copenhagen (hi, Alex), where I consumed copious amounts of some of the best food I’ve ever tasted, froze in the Danish "summer," and finally understood “hygge.” I’ve spent the majority of my holiday, though, editing and shredding documents as a State Department intern at the US Mission to the United Nations here in Geneva (for which I am paid and am SO grateful. Thank you, US government, for letting me shred your papers). Switzerland really opens up in the summer and I’ve gotten to attend a tonne of music festivals, including Caribana, Paléo, and Montreux Jazz Festival, and have seen more artists and shed more tears than I could have ever dreamed. I’ve toured, camped, and rode some segways around France. It’s been four weeks without rain and of suffering in 100 degree temperatures without air conditioning, but luckily I have my handy bomb shelter basement to keep me cool. I love it here.

Problems with being an ocean away: I’ve had to cart around two phones with me everywhere I go (international fees… let me tell you), I can't keep track of the currency in my wallet, I only receive messages past midnight (come on, guys), Donald Trump's campaign is the biggest topic of conversation, and it’s too hot for fondue. Time difference has made it a tough few months but I’m counting down the days to being back in Charlottesville with you all. It’s not long now! 

j o s e p h i n e  m i l l e r  -  s e c o n d  y e a r


I'm having a difficult time coping with the fact that it is already August AND I'M ALMOST REUNITED WITH THE LOVES OF MY LIFE- my HITtas.

With that being said, I’m soaking up every last second of the summer that I can. Summer started relaxingly slow and I spent time enjoying the weather, beach, and friends from Yorktown to D.C. and everywhere in between. Soon, it was already July and I was flying off to Munich, Germany for a month to study voice. Studying what I love most- classical music- every day for an entire month was a dream! I also met some extremely talented singers whom I had the pleasure of performing alongside. Though we were busy, I found time to spend on the beautiful Isar river with a new friend from London and sightsee a bit with family as well (lots of beer and wine involved). I came to appreciate Skype and FaceTime to keep in touch with all of my loved ones over the month, too! The end of the program came way faster than expected, but I was ready to return to good ol’ Virginia and spend a few days at home before running off to Charlottesville and beginning RA training in early August. 

Needless to say, this has been a jam-packed summer, and it is flying by. Still, knowing that soon I’ll be making music and memories with the most amazing women that I’ve met makes me very excited to begin what I know will be the best semester yet.

Wahoowa ppl wahoowa!

b r i a n n a  c a b r e r a  -  s e c o n d  y e a r


Alrighty, so most of my summer has been pretty uneventful. I have been working and that's been the majority of how I've been spending my time. I am a Sales Associate at Sperry Top-Sider (yes, those Sperrys), and it's actually been very enjoyable. Ironically, I had never even heard of Sperrys until I went to UVA, and now I'll be working there whenever I'm home on break.

Other than that, the most fun I've had was when I went to my friends' concert at Webster hall last Thursday. They're friends I know from a sleep away camp I went to for two summers in a row (shoutout to Steve's Camp!!), and they are amazing. They are literally some of the best, nicest, most genuine people I've ever met, and I love and admire them so much. Their band is "East Love," and Hailey Knox and Andrew Maxman performed with them as well! All of them were AMAZING, and this other band called "The Heydaze" that I love and that they're friends with was at the concert too, but just watching which was extremely cool! I went to Coney Island with some friends last week which was fun, and for my aunt's birthday, my cousin and I went with her to a Yankee's game (Go YANKEES!!! - We won by the way)!!

Summer has been great and now that I look back at it, I've done a lot more than I thought I would be able to do. Can't wait to get back into the swing of things with my HITTAS, though!!

Much love!

c a r o l i n e  h o c k e n b u r y  -  s e c o n d  y e a r


It's hard for me to grasp that it has only been three months since my mom and I hit the road to tackle the 8 hour drive back to Louisville from Charlottesville.

Is it move-in day yet?

Summer here in Kentucky has been fairly relaxed. I've spent a large chunk of it working at our neighborhood country club, where I am a pool server. After three months of donning khaki pants and nylon navy blue button downs, it's safe to say I'm excited to pursue different lines of work in the future. When not working, I have enjoyed spending nights on the back patio with my family, going on long runs, reading novels (major ups to The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls), and writing poetry. It has been refreshing connecting with old friends- going on long drives and eating at our favorite local restaurants (sweet potato fries and marshmallow dip will forever hold a special place in my heart). It has been a summer of revival, as I even had the chance to momentarily resuscitate my soccer "career." I competed in the Kentucky State Cup in Bowling Green, Kentucky (which my former club teammates and I won for the first time ever #sick) and, later, the Region II Youth Soccer Championships in Appleton, Wisconsin. Although I was quite rusty and (significantly) less physically prepared than my collegiate-level teammates (sorry hehe), the trip was the perfect culmination to 14 years with the sport and 10 years with my team.

My family also enjoyed a five day visit from our Denver cousins, which of course warranted a thorough exploration of the Louisville area and coma-inducing amounts of Southern cuisine. Perhaps the best part of my summer, though, was returning to Virginia for a few days to visit my wonderful hallmate and friend Anne Taylor; we swam, ran, boated, beached, paddle boarded, listened to great music, tubed on the bay, built sand castles, and (in my opinion) conjured up some pretty sweet tans.

All in all, the summer has been good to me, but I look forward to going home to Charlottesville and getting back into the swing of rehearsal with my HITtas! (I could forgo classes starting, though...)

c a t  r e y n o l d s  -  t h i r d  y e a r


How is summer almost over? I don’t understand. Time doesn’t make sense. For the first month of break, I filled my days being a mole rat in a nuclear reactor. Considering my final paper for a class was arguing that nuclear reactors shouldn’t be a part of the world’s renewable energy, the irony was overwhelming. I worked with Pure Madi, a water purification company started at UVA. We’re working on basic tablets, that are cheap and easy to make, that will kill harmful bacteria. Basically we believe everyone deserves to have safe drinking water, so we’re working on that. It’s a great job, I love it. And I have a key to a nuclear reactor, so that’s cool. But then, in June, I ran away to Mexico to do yoga.

For the majority of my summer, I lived in a tent in Baja, Mexico, studying yoga at Yandara Yoga Institute. I got my teaching and reiki certifications. If you don’t know what reiki is, look it up. Pretty much one of the coolest things out there. My days consisted of 10 hours of yoga, incredible vegetarian meals, kirtan, singing, dancing, kombucha, meditating, swimming, hiking, acro yoga, laying on the beach, and loving my life in a way I never have before. For the first time, everyone around me was like me. And I do mean everyone. I met yogis from all over the world. Norway, Spain, England, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the US are just a few places. I went to Yandara just wanting to get certified so I could teach what I love, but I learned so much more than I could have ever imagine about myself, humanity, the spirit, the universe, life, yoga, love, and so much more. The spiritual connections I made with the people there will never leave me. Like Christopher, one of the instructors. Looking into his eyes is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. He is so pure and so full of genuine and unconditional love, holding his gaze was like looking at the sun. And Craig, who could pinpoint exactly what was wrong and how to fix it before you even realized you were feeling down. I met a veteran, professional dancers, a banker, a computer programmer, full time adventurers, a man who had the exact same tattoo as me, and I fell in love with each and every one of them. My mind, heart, soul, and spirit have been expanded in ways I never thought possible. I feel like a walking contradiction, fully believing in, what a lot of people would call “hippie BS”, and also being an engineer. And it’s the best feeling in the world. It’s like I’m using every part of my brain all the time! Experiences I had there I’m not even going to try to explain. There’s no point. Some things can only be felt. Moral of the story is, I’m probably going to try to read your aura if you ever come near me. Sorry not sorry.

After coming back, I’ve been teaching yoga, doing reiki, and working back in the lab. It’s not a bad life. Not bad at all.

a l i s a  p r i c e  -  t h i r d  y e a r


This summer was a huge summer for me. I arrived in New York City late May, unpacked my two suitcases in my Air BnB apartment and started work the next week. Being in an unfamiliar place that is so fast pace threw me off and at times scared me. I tried memorizing subway stops, where Uptown, Midtown, Lower East was but it took at least a month. My internship was at a fashion company called MCM where I led Sweepstake Giveaways and shadowed photoshoots in Brooklyn. Over the weeks I noticed a more organized, fast pace me that wanted a plan and wanted to go see new things. I started walking faster and hating tourists that walked too slowly, I started drinking more coffee and yelling at cab drivers that refused to come to a full stop while I was crossing. I started waking up earlier and grabbing incredible New York Bagels to go. I even got a text from my mom saying "I keep thinking you live in New York". All in all I really think I immersed myself into this lifestyle and it pushed me to be more independent and trust my instincts. It's easy to get into the same routine in college, especially in a smaller town like Charlottesville. As much as I missed eating Take-It-Away sandwiches on the Lawn, there was something calming about sitting in New York, alone and watching all the hustle and bustle go by around me. Before I came to New York I doubted my ability to stay afloat without the direct help from friends and family. But as I sit here on my AirBnB bed and write this blog on one of my last days in New York, I see how far I've come in just two months. Not only am I proud of my accomplishments over these two months, I'm even prouder of my accomplishments from my last blog, last summer. In my last blog I talked about how important it was for me to lose the Freshman Fifteen and this summer changed my mentality on health. I worked with a trainer who taught me the proper ways to workout and to eat clean with some pizza from time to time. I sat in an office with women constantly talking about their 'no flour' diet. I'm serious, guys. They would literally sit in front of pizza and ask if there was flour in it. I realized the every day struggles they must face just as I did with weight and I can truthfully say I'd rather stuff my face with pizza, be happy, and workout then to WISH I had eaten that pizza, workout and continue on with such a desperate diet. It took 365 days, but it was well worth the wait.

The most memorable moment of this summer was when I stumbled across a homeless man writing poetry on my way to Chantal's apartment. Donald Green is his name, and for only $5, he wrote me a poem upon my boyfriend's request. At that time I felt a little lost and discouraged about the little things in life, and Donald Green wrote down "Well there can be sweet sun in mornings for some souls, and there can be stars always there for some soul, financial abundance, money is no worry for some souls, Live in the lives of some souls, that care, that providing, in this contrary world." What beautiful words from someone who spent five minutes looking for clean paper just to write this poem. He shocked us with his incredible knowledge of poetry and taught us how little it takes to be happy. New York has given me a new perspective, one that will be remembered for years to come.

Until next time NYC.

s a s h e e n i e  m o o d l e y  -  t h i r d  y e a r


I have never been in a South African taxi (see below 'everydayafrica' Instagram picture for a description of this type of "taxi"). Born and raised in Johannesburg, I was blessed to have grown up in a privileged family. Although I led a sheltered life, I took pride in my knowledge of all the South African communities (privileged and not so privileged) and my awareness of the socio-economic landscape of the national demographic. But, growing up with privilege meant that I was never forced to use public transportation on a daily basis, and I had never used a taxi before. Sure, I had driven next to them, heard my family and friends rant about their dangerous driving style, and seen them weave through rush-hour traffic the way an ant navigates a picnic, but I had never been in a taxi on South African roads. Before today...

Today I took a taxi from Cape Town (the urban sea-side jungle) into Gugulethu (the main township on the outskirts of Cape Town on the way to the airport). I was traveling into Gugulethu to meet with the Community Action Trainers (CATs) from Sonke Gender Justice Network (the NGO I was working with). From their website: "Sonke strives to build a southern Africa in which mean , women, youth, and children can enjoy equitable, healthy and happy relationships that contribute to the development of just and democratic societies. To achieve this, Sonke works to build government, civil society and citizen capacity to achieve gender equality, prevent gender-based violence and reduce the spread of HIV and the impact of AIDS." More specifically, Sonke has pioneered a "One Man Can" program, advocating for men to become active in their communities to end violence against women and stop the spread of HIV/AIDS. Through "One Man Can," CATs go out into the community (city clinics, health centers, and townships) and educate community members (specifically men) by explaining what men can do to 1) prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, and 2) stop violence against women (and partners). In Sonke's words, this can be achieved by 1) knowing your HIV/AIDS status; 2) educating yourself on HIV/AIDS, testing, counseling or treatment; 3) protecting yourself and others by practicing safe sex, getting circumcised, and reducing your number of sexual partners; 4) getting involved with proactive programs in the community to increase awareness about prevalent issues as shown above. These were the thoughts going through my head as I silently sat on the taxi to Gugulethu (you see, I was reading Sonke's brochure). Being in a taxi was an interesting experience. Firstly, we had to wait until the all the seats were occupied in the 18-seater taxi (the taxi had to be full of passengers before we could pull out of the taxi rank). Once we were on the road, the taxi began weaving in and out of traffic and I began reflecting on how different it felt to be transported in a taxi (I was grateful that we were making good time on our almost 20km trip to the township) versus drive next to taxi (I was normally nervous and anxious about reckless taxi driving). The driver had Celine Dion's 20-year old album playing in the taxi, except that Dion was singing with a South African seems that knock-offs are universal. 

After waiting for the taxi to fill (30mins) and then making our way into Gugulethu (20mins), we finally arrived at Sonke. You see, a CAT from Sonke made the trip from Gugulethu into Cape Town to fetch me and ride the taxi with me - it was not advisable that I ride the taxi alone when I 1) couldn't speak a word of Xhosa, and 2) was a female inn an unfamiliar environment.Once at Sonke, I was able to meet with some of the CAT members. CATs are Community Action Trainers and they are divided into CAT members and CAT trainers. The CAT members are volunteers who spend time at Sonke in a kind of internship role. The CAT trainers are employed by Sonke and are the leaders of their small team. They are responsible for organizing logistics and specific details about events in the community. While we waited for the taxi, I spoke to 3 CAT members: Tracy, Sarah, and Amy. Tracy joined Sonke because she had come with Amy to go to the mall and open a bank account. Amy insisted that they stop at Sonke on their way, and so Tracy sat in on a CAT meeting. She liked the people talking about positive change inthe community, and spreading the news about HIV treatments, so she decided to apply to be a CAT member. Sarah joined Sonke when she similarly came with Amy to the Sonke office. She needed to copy her CV for job applications, but when she saw the other CATs in their meeting, she forgot all about her CV and joined in. The next day, she was back again and soon she became a CAT member too. Sarah loves what she does (although she didnt share with me if there was a deeper reason why she wanted wanted to be involved with gender activism; neither did Tracy come to think of it) but she wishes that they were not called CATs, because she doesnt like cats. She says she would prefer it if the gender activists were called 'snakes' because she likes snakes. When she said this Tracy commented that if people knew they were called 'snakes' then the community would run away from them instead of gather to listen to their talks. They all laughed. 

I asked Tracy how CATs reach perpetrators of GBV (gender-based violence) in the community. She replied that IEC talks (where CATs go into the community and increase awareness through conversation or where CATs distribute resources in the community) occur a few times a month but because they are in the middle of winter, there are only 2 talks/month in the shebeens. Tracy highlighted that CATs need to protect themselves and cannot put themselves in danger by going into the community alone or without their larger group. Considering all the logistics, it makes sense that there are only 2 talks/month in winter when people get ill or members who are in Matric have to write exams. Tracy said that CATs cannot make themselves a target or become isolated in the community. This showed me that there is a certain element of fear/anxiety that CATs have when they venture into unfamiliar areas of the township region. Lastly, Tracy   mentioned that people in the community are not aware what GBV and abuse is because they grow up seeing abuse or being abused. She said that if a man doesn't hit his wife (and the wife grew up seeing abuse as a little girl) then she thins that he doesn't really love her because her dad used to hit her mum. She continued to say that not many people know about Sonke when she says that she works (volunteers) at the NGO. She thinks that there needs to be increased awareness around Sonke, so that there are more community members that can be helped. Then the community will be a better place. 

Our team of 8 people (5 women and 3 men) got into Sonke's taxi and drove to Nyanga - the township where we would be distributing condoms and spreading the word about "One Man Can." We would also be talking about the South African Department of Health's HIV/AIDS campaign "Choice Condoms" whereby condoms are provided for free to community members, as part of the initiative to reduce HIV transmission in sexually active populations around the country. Today, we travelled into Nyanga with 36000 male condoms and 1000 female condoms. The taxi turned into the main dirt road of the township with its music blaring - an active choice by the driver, who wanted to announce our arrival. As we drove along the dirt road, children came out of their homes and ran behind the taxi. Once the taxi came to a stop, the kids began dancing around the taxi, laughing as they moved to the beat of the South African hip-hop. The 8 of us disembarked, loaded our arms with boxes of Choice condoms and began our duty.

We moved in a pack of 8, walking door to door, offering the women and men inside their shacks and outside their shacks free condoms. We moved as one group because none of us had been to Nyanga before. What's more, we were working in a poorer part of the township, where there were only shacks, one street lamp and one tap with clean water (in contrast to other township areas where the South African government has implemented a 10-year roll out Reconstruction and Development Program to build brick houses - commonly known as RDP). This meant that the CATs were anxious about our walking door-to-door because they did not know how the community members were going to react to our arrival: would they want the condoms, would they be interested in hearing about what we had to say, would they shout at us for intruding on their property, would they chase us away out of uncertainty. Sonke advocates for condom usage always, even between a husband and wife because there is an increasing number of spouses who contract HIV during affairs. When a condom is used in a marriage, even if one spouse has an affair and contracts the virus, at least the other spouse can be saved from HIV. However, there is cultural tension introduced with condoms. Tracy, one of the CATs, explained to me that if a wife asks her husband to use a condom in their marriage, then it means that 1) she is cheating on her husband, or 2) she does not truly love him. Because of this cultural tension, condom distribution in smaller, more traditional communities (as are seen in most townships) is risky because we are distributing a resource that contradicts traditional cultural beliefs.

Most of the people we encountered knew what male and female condoms were, by evidence of their asking us for them. They knew how to use and why condoms should be used - evidence of progress made in the last 10 years by HIV/AIDS awareness programs. Thankfully, there were no seriously offensive incidents when we were in Nyanga today. Except for one man who was sitting outside his orange/potato cart in a side alley in the township. He insisted on speaking to the only white (American) girl in our team and proceeded to ask what he should do with the box of Choice condoms he had been handed. Jessica responded that the man should distribute the condoms when he sells his produce and tell people about practicing safe sex. The man laughed at her, saying that when he packed up his cart and left for the day, he would not take the condoms with him because they were not his property. We did not know what he meant by this...perhaps he felt he did not own the condoms because they were from the Government, or because he did not pay for them. After a little more back-and-forth, he decided that he would distribute the condoms and spread the word about safe sex if we bought some oranges from his stall. We complied with his wishes, hoping he would stay true to his word. 
I would like to share a single moment with you that captured my entire experience in Nyanga. I was walking at the back of the group, holding the boxes of condoms in my hands as I went along the dirt road littered with rubble and rubbish. There was a little boy (maybe 4 or 5 year sold) wearing a blue knitted sweater, tattered with wear and a tear and torn at the neck. He had a condom in his hand, and offered it to me with a smile. This condom had dropped out of my box, and the little boy had picked it up. He did not know what it was or what I was doing there, but he judged my work as important. Important enough to hand me a condom that i had lost along the way. I took the condom from him and added it to its hundreds of brothers and sisters in my box. I couldn't thank the boy or express my wonder at his subconscious awareness of the present for I could not speak a word of Xhosa. So I smiled at him, hoping that my eyes would express what i couldnt say. he smiled back a wide grin, and fell into step with me. I gazed at his feet as we walked and saw that we wore no shoes to protect him from the rubble that littered our path. No shoes to protect him from the bitter coldness of the afternoon. No shoes to protect him on his way. This single soul, who had not been told why I was in his home and who (assumedly) didnt know the importance of condom distributions in impoverished township areas, had left a lasting impression on my soul. In the few seconds of our exchange, and the subsequent 3-minute walk before he left my side to play with his friends who had a tire in the middle of a littered clearing, I understood the gravity of the situation I was in. Standing amongst pollution, in a township with one street lamp and one central tap, I understood the need. It was overwhelming. I wanted to scoop up as many children as I could carry and run away with them, promising them a better life, good education and good medical care. I wanted to save their young generation. But if I did this, i would be hurting them. Not only would i take them away from everything that they knew and loved, but I would also be impeaching on their right to live as had been decided by a higher force. I made a silent promise to that little boy that I would come back to the township when I could really help him. In that moment, I knew why I wanted to continue on my course to being a surgeon. I would bring resources to the township, and all the surrounding townships. I would offer my services and help the people who wanted my help. I was determined to change his life, and the lives of his brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins, his mother and his father. 

When I went home that night, I learned a few basic words in Xhosa from James (who was learning Xhosa as part of his medical volunteer work in the townships) and Linda. I sent out a fervent prayer that I would meet that little blue-sweatered boy again, so I could thank him by saying "enkosi, boetie."

After our conversation with the (somewhat) angsty man, we continued walking through the winding side paths between the silver, tin shacks. We had only 3 boxes of condoms between the 8 of us now, and we hoped that we had managed to cover most of the area. I was walking toward the back of the group, watching my step so as to avoid the rubble, metal, glass and wire embedded or sticking out of the grey sand. I turned a corner, and looked up. In front of me, sprawled out as far as my eye could see were about 500 tin shacks, in a 5km radius. As I took in my surroundings, I saw women cautiously venturing out of their homes to ask for condoms. I was overwhelmed by the need in the area...not only for male and female condoms (both of which were received well by the community), but also for primary health care, clean living conditions and clean water. It was hard to believe that 3km away, in Gugulethu, there were brick houses, roads full of cars, street lamps, and a functioning sewage system. I was taken aback by the overwhelming need for resources in Nyanga. I had grown up in Johannesburg and frequently visited schools and orphanages in the surrounding townships (Soweto, Alex, etc), yet I had never seen conditions like those in Nyanga. The shack townships in Cape Town are the result of a political debacle in national government. You see, the cities of Johannesburg and Durban fall under the jurisdiction of the ANC (the liberal party that has been in office since the first democratic election in 1994), while the city of Cape Town falls under the jurisdiction of the DA (the conservative party that was in power during Apartheid). There are minimal shacks in Johannesburg or Durban (under the ANC), yet there is an overwhelming number of people living in shacks in Cape Town. This political issue is only further exacerbated by a large influx of illegal immigrants, foreigners (looking for employment in lucrative tourist trades in CT), and family members of Cape Town locals.

On the way back to the Sonke Center, we all sat in Sonke's taxi, eating deliciously sweet oranges, letting the blaring South African dance music wash over us. There was silence in the taxi...everyone was preoccupied with their thoughts, mulling over our time in the township. Reflecting on the day's events, I find myself feeling quite isolated by my experience in the Nyanga township. I was with a warm group of people in the township, and even though there was no opportunity to debrief with the group after our time in the community, i was able to speak with a family friend on the phone when I got home about my experience in Nyanga (as a pseudo-debriefing session). No, the people I went with and the lack of debriefing were not the reasons for my isolation. I didnt even feel isolated because i couldn't speak the language of the community (the local language is Xhosa and English is only spoken by city-folk; people in Nyanga almost exclusively speak Xhosa, which I cannot speak). After spending the day in Nyanga, handing out condoms to members of the community that I could not communicate with verbally and walking across rubble, barbed wire, glass, and rubbish in the sand while barefoot children danced around our group of 8 young adults, I feel isolated because of my privilege. I feel as though I have had too much privilege and luck in my 21 years on this planet, and nothing I can do in my remaining years on earth will allow me to make up for the amount of privilege I have had. I have eaten too much good food, seen too many gorgeous cities and countries, flown in too many airplanes, driven in too many cars, read too many books and poems, seen too many movies, talked to too many interesting people, and the list goes on. 

m e l i n a  r a p a z z i n i  -  f o u r t h  y e a r


(The following entry is an excerpt from Melina's summer blog on "The Project on Lived Theology" - 7/1/15)


Prior to this week I was nervous to drive through the city of Oakland, California.

You know in life when over a short period of time your eyes become so opened you almost feel blind? The sheer quantity of exposure to newness is so overwhelming that you find yourself, yet again, oddly put in a box with the seemingly random assortment of Socrates[1], the Apostle Paul[2], Faust[3], and Kierkegaard[4] when they all said some variation of, Ah yes, I don’t know anything. What a frightening relief.

Well, I found myself in that weird Socratic-Apostolic-Literary-Existentialist box.

And I am relatively certain I’m going to be hanging there the rest of my summer.

You are welcome to join.

[1] “I know one thing: that I know nothing”- The Socratic Paradox

[2] “If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet you as he ought to know” – 1 Corinthians 8:2

[3] “I see that we can know nothing”- Faust at the end of his life seeking knowledge

[4] “’I see that we can know nothing’, Then that is a conclusion, a result. It is something entirely different than when a student repeats this statement in the first semester of college to justify his laziness” Kierkagaard’s exceedingly witty, if not painfully true, qualifier of [3].

This week I stepped into a city deeply marked by issues such as mass incarceration, illegal immigration,gentrification, food deserts, human trafficking, drug addiction, underperforming tenured teachers who can’t be fired, homelessness, refugees, police corruption, gangs, where violence and structural injustice are everyday realities, not just headlines on a CNN app. The neighborhood where I am working and living this summer historically has one of the highest rates of robbery in the nation.[5] Socio-economic classes are so stratified in Oakland that people in the upper class “hills” live approximately 15-20 years longer than those who living in the lower class “flat lands.”

As I began to spend time in Oakland I learned that I stepped into a city marked by incredible street art that honors the inspiring narrative of individuals and the community, by being the first middle class African American establishment in the nation, by pioneer movements towards restorative justice within the prison and educational system, by advocacy and protests – I mean come on – this is the birthplace of the Black Panthers, Occupy Wall Street, and more recently, the Black Lives Matter movement. Did you know West Oakland was known as the “Harlem of the West ” during the Harlem Renaissance because of Oakland’s booming jazz nightclub scene and vibrant hub of black culture and art?

Who knew?

Prior to this week I was nervous to drive through the city of Oakland.

Okay, that isn’t entirely true.

This week I have still been uncomfortable while driving through Oakland.

Yes. That is embarrassing.

[5] My grandparents are not pleased.


When the opportunity presented itself for me to do a project on lived theology creating and implementing a reading, art, and gardening program for refugee youth in east Oakland, my immediate response was a visceral discomfort accompanied by increased heart palpations. I suppose I can partially ascribe these feelings to being both explicitly and implicitly told my whole life by protective adults that as a 5’1” white girl I need to prudently avoid any perceived areas of danger. Once I clinically diagnosed myself, as any good nursing student does, with “fear related to irrational socialization as evidenced by shortness of breath and diaphoresis[6],” I immediately understood that I had no option but to pursue the project. I repeated like a broken record what my mission-oriented church emphasized to me growing up, “uncomfortable is good, uncomfortable is growth, growth is good.”

I have become far too comfortable in my religion classes attempting to pontificate about the nuances of how then shall we live according to some lofty theology ideology. These presumptuous musings can far too often be abstracted from the lived reality of.. well, actual humans, because they do not take into serious consideration the diversity of lived experience. They do not listen, sit with, and seek to understand firsthand a sufferer. My fellow Project on Lived Theology intern Rachel Prestipino[7], ironically said late one night as we were bitterly struggling through a paper, “God forbid any papers we write for religious studies be too practical!” While students of religion might chuckle along in solidarity, an erudite (and therefore largely impractical) engagement with religion in the academy is the antithesis of the Project on Lived Theology’s vision. Far too often a ground-up, grassroots sort of theological vision is missing because it’s in an ivory tower (picture here Rapunzel, locked up, smoking a pipe, and designing a habitat for sea horses). Kind of irrelevant.

Heather Warren, a professor at the University of Virginia and an Episcopal priest, contributes to this conversation when she distinguishes between theological analysis and theological reflection. Theological analysis is where an argument is deconstructed, identified, and ethically implicated whereas,

“Theological reflection is a self-conscious, intentional act in which one seeks to know God and be known by God so that one can love God and others as God loves… The purpose of theological reflection is to enhance the possibility of transformation” (Warren 334).

In a paradoxical way, it is easy to study theology five days a week with such an analytically-orientated framework that one may shroud’s oneself from engaging the living God. There is no transformation in mere analysis; the question of how then shall we live will never be satisfactorily explored so as promote genuine human flourishing. Stanley Hauwerwas of Duke University humbly recognizes early in his Gifford lecture that, “at best, theology is but a series of reminders to help Christians pray faithfully” (With the Grain of the Universe 16).

I, Melina analytically-self-shrouded-from-God Rapazzini, don’t pray faithfully.

What does it mean to pray faithfully?

Is it quantity or quality?

Maybe both?

Maybe it’s merely an apophatic moan to God that reflects our lack of knowledge?

Maybe it’s a prayer for transformation of our relationship with God and others.[8]

This summer, aligned with the project’s vision, I intend to let my journey in Oakland not simply be a pragmatic humanitarian effort, nor let it be merely an exercise in religious anthropological exploration. I hope to understand what it means: blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall see the kingdom of God (Matthew 5). I hope to catch glimpses of and participate in the Kingdom of God through engaging in life with and learning from those around me. Ultimately I hope to allow God to transform me in my relationship with Her and with those around me in prayerfully seeking first the Kingdom.

Whatever that really means.


By the end of the week I was no longer nervous to drive through Oakland

(As I like to call it: baby steps of sanctification)


[6] A fancy word for sweat

[7] Who also happens to be my classmate, roommate, best friend, etc.

[8] It’s funny, I think the Desert Fathers all the way back in 400AD said something similar to my italic-bolded prophetic proclamation, which in hindsight appears relatively simple


(You can visit the first post of Melina's blog at

r a c h e l  m i n k  -  f o u r t h  y e a r


Wait, it’s August already? I’m still in shock that in a few short weeks, we’ll be back on Grounds and I’ll be starting my fourth and final year at the University.

This summer has been quite a whirlwind — I’m working at Ash Lawn Opera as an Administrative and Education intern and we just closed our final show on Saturday! Now, it’s time for post-show clean-up, which basically means I’ve got lots of closets to reorganize. I’m also working at the Music Department at UVa, where I have the privilege of meeting all the new first-years and answering all their questions about the music department!! There’s a good chance I met a future HITta at orientation and don’t yet know it…

When I haven’t been working, I’ve been doing a lot of yoga. Like, a lot of yoga. I bought an unlimited pass for the summer and I’ve taken the “unlimited” part very seriously. I also realized that I totally missed the boat for The Office, so I’ve been trying to up my pop culture game by watching all of it on Netflix. No one told me how AMAZING this show is (okay, maybe somebody told me, but I really didn’t understand just how amazing until this summer).

So yeah, music, The Office, yoga: all in all, a pretty good summer. And I’m thrilled to start another year with my beautiful HITtas!

k a t i e  g i g a n t e  -  r e c e n t  g r a d  ( e e k ! )


The end of last semester was a whirlwind of sadness, celebration, and excitement for new chapters. Do I wish I could be sitting on the lawn with a Bodos sandwich surrounded by my Hittas, taking in the beauty Jefferson’s academic village, and joyously reuniting for another year of music and love and friendship? For sure, but this summer has been one full of adventure, change, and growth. First there was graduation: this amazing culmination of four years of hard work, sweat, and tears. But it’s more than that too, it’s a time to reflect on four years where you left your family and your comfort zone, made new friends, experienced new things, and had some of the best times of your life.  I was lucky enough to be able to head to Europe with the University Singers the day after I wore the honors of honor and walked down the lawn. It sure softened the blow and gave me something else to focus on (like packing!).  We traveled to England first, with stops in Cambridge and London, where Rachel and I got to see former Hitta and UK native Josceline! Next, we flew to Prague which was wonderful where Sarah Chase (formerly Sarah Deal) and HIT man Sam surprisingly showed up to our concert. Reunions are just the best! We rounded out our trip with Krakow and Vienna. Between these last two cities we also stopped for a collaboration concert in Brno, which is in the second largest city in Czech Republic. For me, this was by far the most rewarding experience of our tour. We performed with the Brno Philharmonic, a local choir, in a beautiful church with amazing acoustics. The Czech audience was so grateful and excited that we were there singing for them. We ended the concert with a joint performance of Handel’s Hallelujah chorus which was a truly powerful and moving moment.  

After saying goodbye to the U-Singers in Vienna I donned my trusty Osprey backpack, met up with friends and took on Dublin, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Cinque Terre, Florence, Rome, Barcelona, and Madrid. It was an amazing, eye-opening, and exhausting experience.  After 5 weeks of traveling I headed home to soak up time with friends and family before moving to Indianapolis, IN for my job with Eli Lilly, a pharmaceutical company. I’m working in the pilot plant, which helps to scale up processes from the lab to manufacturing. It’s been good so far, and exploring a new city has been exciting.  I’m still in denial that I won’t be heading to Rachel’s house in a week to sing with my favorite people. But I know they’ll have another successful year sharing music with the UVa and Charlottesville community. I’ll be cheering them on from only a few states away!