University of Virginia Rector George Keith Martin on Tuesday expressed concern for a student injured during a recent arrest by officers of the Alcoholic Beverage Control agency and called for the state to take “affirmative steps to prevent this type of event in the future.”
“We are deeply concerned about the safety and security of our students – all of our students, regardless of the circumstances,” Martin said Tuesday as he opened a two-day meeting of the Board of Visitors. “Threats to student safety must be addressed, whether the source of the danger is external or internal.”
At the close of the day, Martin and his board colleagues also heard directly from Joy Omenyi, president of U.Va.’s Black Student Alliance.
Omenyi, a fourth-year student from Maryland, said she and her fellow students “all stand behind Martese and his personal fight for justice and will not be silent in our support.”
Students and many other members of the University community have expressed frustration, anger, compassion and resolve following the March 18 incident on the Corner in which third-year student Martese Johnson, who is African-American, suffered a head injury that required 10 stitches during an arrest by Virginia ABC agents. Media coverage of the arrest sparked national outrage. Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced a state investigation at the request of University President Teresa A. Sullivan.
Since the arrest, students have led several events, including a rally last week at the McIntire Amphitheatre, a dialogue with law enforcement representatives on Friday in Newcomb Theater, and a rally at Tuesday’s Board of Visitors meeting.
In an effort to provide an opportunity for the board to hear directly from students about recent issues and concerns, Martin invited Omenyi to deliver remarks during the board meeting.
Omenyi said the Black Student Alliance will soon bring a formal list of issues to the Board of Visitors that details specific items that the BSA and other students are advocating. Among them: concerns about ABC’s law enforcement powers, an expectation of more students and faculty of color here, increased compensation for those who earn the lowest wages, and curriculum changes.
“We only want a real change and nothing less,” she said.
In his opening remarks regarding the student arrest and injury, Martin emphasized concern for the wellbeing of Johnson, an Honor Committee member from Chicago, and his family.
“Reflecting on this episode, I cannot ignore the fact that Martese is an African-American,” the rector said. “I cannot ignore the fact that I have been contacted by African-American alumni who are concerned. But I also have been contacted by alums who are not African-Americans and they, too, are concerned about Martese.”
Martin, the first African-American to serve as rector of the University, acknowledged that the issues are complex and that people have different views on addressing them.
“Good solutions require goodwill and good behavior from all parties – students, University officials, proprietors, police officers, all of us,” he said.