Several hundred students at the University of Virginia gave an impassioned, full-throated rejection of racism and hatred Monday evening, several days after white supremacists marched on the Lawn and sowed chaos in deadly demonstrations in Charlottesville.
Called together by the school’s Black Student Alliance, the crowd, assembled at McIntire Amphitheater, grew as the program progressed.
Alliance President Wes Gobar was the first of several who addressed the audience at 9 p.m.
“As a city, as a University, as a community, we have a choice as to how we now want to respond to terrorism,” he said as he stood on the stage of the amphitheater. “Other communities have given in to this form of terrorism. Charlottesville, the University of Virginia, we can do our best to dismantle symbolic forms of white supremacy.”
Many in the crowd wore black and carried banners bearing messages rejecting racism. There were also people wearing homemade T-shirts emblazoned with messages that included “Our Grounds” and “Defend C’Ville.” Before the program got underway a group of students, some wearing “Black Lives Matter” T-shirts, stood quietly in a circle, holding hands with their heads bowed.
Gobar and several others also read from a list of 10 issues and expectations for the University administration.
The list addresses issues such as enrollment of African-American students and faculty; and bolstering instruction that offers context on issues such as white supremacy, slavery and colonization.
The list also calls on UVA to move a Rotunda plaque honoring students and alumni who died fighting for the Confederacy, to a museum or Special Collections. The Rotunda features plaques honoring hundreds who were slain in the Civil War, World Wars I and II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War — and U.S. Army Capt. Humayun S. Khan, UVA's lone alumnus killed in the Iraq War.
The list also calls for the University to address issues such as open flames and weapons in spaces such as the Lawn. In a message to the University community earlier on Monday, President Teresa A. Sullivan, who attended Monday’s gathering, said several safety-related initiatives already are underway. Among them, a review of existing laws and University policies regarding open flames and the public’s ability to access certain historic and open spaces such as the Lawn and Academical Village.
With the speaking portion of the event in the amphitheater complete, the crowd’s energy rose and they took to McCormick Road to make their way to the statue of Thomas Jefferson, which sits on a plaza on the north side of the Rotunda. Voices were raised as people called out chants.
“The people united, will never be defeated!”
“Whose Grounds?! Our Grounds!”
“Black Lives Matter!”
Slowly, the large crowd assembled on the stairs of the Rotunda under a newly-hung banner from UVA’s Seven Society.
“Our mission therefore is to confront ignorance with knowledge, bigotry with tolerance, and isolation with the outstretched hand of generosity. Racism can, will and must be defeated.”
This was the second large student-led gathering to take place on Grounds since the unrest of Aug. 11 and 12. Last Wednesday, thousands from the University community and beyond retraced the steps that neo-Nazi and white supremacist protestors took the previous Friday in a powerful repudiation of hate and bigotry, carrying candles instead of torches and delivering messages of unity and love.