Student leaders went into action Friday night as soon as they found out white supremacists were marching on the University of Virginia’s Lawn. The students have been planning ways for the student body to publicly reject racism and hatred, assert ownership of the University and begin healing.
Student Council President Sarah Kenny said the action was immediate.
“There have been texts, communications, phone calls, emails and GroupMe conversations non-stop since Friday night,” she said. “Students on Grounds have been in meetings from 8 in the morning until late, late at night, talking in each other’s rooms, both trying to heal one another and process the fear and pain they are experiencing as well as to how to present some actionable items to move forward.”
“It’s an all-consuming energy but everyone has a goal of making sure that once students return to Grounds that this is a safe environment and that something like this does not happen again,” she said.
More than 100 students are actively engaged in the planning before student move-in this weekend. UVA’s Black Student Alliance President Wes Gobar said the group is leading a march on Grounds, starting at Nameless Field, the same location torch-toting racists began their march last Friday.
Gobar said the march is designed to give students, “especially incoming students, the sense of reclaiming these Grounds.”
“We built this University and we can’t allow these people to take back the progress that we’ve made,” Gobar said, referring to the slave labor that was used to build and sustain the University. “The alt-right screamed, ‘You will not replace us.’ I think that it is key that we don’t give in to their terror.”
The march follows a massive outpouring Wednesday night at UVA — another response developed with the leadership of students. Thousands of people carrying candles turned out on the Lawn to publicly and peacefully reject the neo-Nazi and white supremacists that brought hatred to Grounds last week.
On Sunday, President Teresa A. Sullivan will be welcoming first-year and transfer students to the University. In addition, Gobar said the Black Student Alliance will host a special session for African-American students Aug. 22 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. in Wilson Hall. “It’s to help students process what happened,” he said.
Kenny said the planning continues in earnest and she expects programming to continue well into the semester. “There is an extraordinary effort to make this next week, this next month, the future of our University, a space where we look violence and race-relations and hate and white supremacy in the face in a new way, where we elevate the voices of minority students right now, especially black students.”
Earlier this week Gobar, fellow student Isabella Ciambotti and 2017 UVA graduate - and Rhodes Scholar - Aryn Frazier joined the New York Times for a Facebook Live event about what happened in Charlottesville.
An Outpouring of Support
Meanwhile, university student leaders from around the country joined together this week to express solidarity with UVA and to denounce the “violence, racism, white supremacy, bigotry and acts of terrorism” that were on display in Charlottesville.
Their statement reads “As Student Body Presidents across the United States, we are deeply saddened by the events that have occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia. We stand with the students of the University of Virginia, as what affects one of our campuses affects us all.”
Thus far, nearly 130 college student body presidents have signed the letter of support.