One month after protesters clashed over the future of Confederate monuments in Charlottesville, Virginia, a different group of protesters got together on the historic campus on Tuesday to denounce the response by the University of Virginia to the events of last month. Approximately 100 students, faculty, and others went to the campus to cover up a monument honoring Thomas Jefferson: a founder of the republic and author of the Declaration of Independence. Among the protesters were some invoking "Black Lives Matter" chants. The university appears to be conceding to some of their demands.
On Tuesday, several people climbed to the top of the Jefferson monument to affix signs that read: "racist" and "rapist." Others chanted, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, "No Trump, No KKK, no racist U-V-A." They covered the monument with a black tarp.
“One month ago, we stood on the front lines in downtown Charlottesville as all manner of white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and neo-fascists swarmed the area,” a speaker told the crowd. The speaker continued, “Two months ago, the Ku Klux Klan rallied in their safe space, fully robed and fully protected by multiple law enforcement agencies who brutalized and tear-gassed peaceful counter-protesters.”
The rally was organized to protest a decision by the University of Virginia that denied a request by the Black Student Alliance to ban white supremacists from campus, and remove Confederate plaques on the rotunda. “With every new horror that arises each month, each day, there has been an unparalleled resistance of people who say no to white supremacy, no to fascism, no to all forms of oppression,” said the speaker. “And we recognize and honor the fact that this resistance was not born 10 months ago, but has actually lived for many years: Communities of color in Charlottesville fighting for affordable housing, for a living wage, for an end to police brutality and state-sanctioned violence, for education for all.”
According to the leftist Southern Poverty Law Center, there are more than 1,500 Confederate symbols, statues, and monuments throughout the United States, including the names of highways and schools.
In response to the vandalism, University President Teresa Sullivan sent two emails on Wednesday — one to the University community and another to University alumni and donors. Sullivan wrote: “[The protesters] shrouded the Jefferson statue, desecrating ground that many of us consider sacred,” in her email to alumni and donors. In both of her missives, Sullivan said she “strongly” disagreed with the decision to cover the statue.
At the same time, Sullivan also said that Thomas Jefferson would not have been surprised by the disagreements and activism shown at UVa. “U.Va.'s importance as a university is underscored by the fact that arguments about free expression, hate speech, and similar issues occur here,” Sullivan said in her email to alumni. “Sometimes these arguments are noisy.”
While Jefferson is a controversial figure, Sullivan admitted that he made many contributions to the United States. However, Sullivan said that the university is taking steps to acknowledge the past, which include a Commission on Slavery and the University, a planned Memorial to Enslaved Laborers, and affirmative action efforts. “The University has acknowledged its controversial history and we continue to learn from it through open dialogue and civil discourse,” Sullivan’s email to students said.
Sullivan noted that the university is renaming several campus buildings. For example, one building will soon bear the name Pinn Hall after Vivian Pinn, M.D.: one of the first black women to graduate from UVa.’s School of Medicine. There is also an effort underway to name a building for W.W. Yen, the first Chinese student to graduate from the University.
In an interview with The Cavalier, the university’s student newspaper, Sullivan was asked what her opinion is about demands issued by the Black Student Alliance. The BSA is demanding:
“All students, regardless of area of study, should have required education (either inside or outside the classroom) on white supremacy, colonization, and slavery as they directly relate to Thomas jefferson, the University, and the city of Charlottesville. The current curriculum changes only affect the college of Arts and Sciences and allow students to focus in on aspects of difference of their choice." Another demand noted that the percentage of "African American undergraduate students" currently at UVa. amounts to 6.4 percent. BSA wants to see that number rise to 12 percent, which reflects the overall proportion of black residents of Virginia.
Sullivan said that faculty members decide on curricula and that the deans of the various departments are having discussions with faculty about the demand. She said, “So I would guess that the faculty will probably not go for a one-size-fits-all kind of approach to this. I would also note that we are beta-testing a module on implicit bias with I think 500 first-year students. I might be wrong about the number. Basically, to let them take this module, debrief it with them, find out what their reaction is to having taken it and so on. What I’ve heard so far from the students who’ve done it is that they think it’s very good. They think it’s the best of the modules they’ve taken so far.”
If the module is accepted, Sullivan said that incoming students and transfers may be required to take it, while there is a possibility that all students would have to take the instruction.
Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.