To anyone keeping up with local or national news, it should come as no surprise that the past few weeks have been especially difficult for many Americans. Regardless of your political beliefs and affiliations, the recent presidential election struck you in some way – maybe it created tension between family members or friends, maybe you felt personally attacked or struggled with the results. Although the election is not subject to our influence anymore, our reactions definitely are. The fall semester of this academic year has unfortunately been plagued by insensitive, racialized events that have emphasized the growing need for a strong solidarity between the minority communities at UVa to combat prejudice. While this issue is not unique to U.Va., our Grounds cannot and will not support hate speech or discriminatory action that alienates students of any race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, or religion.
Dissatisfied and disappointed to the recent instances of hate on Grounds, U.Va. students and faculty came together to organize Eliminate the Hate week – a week of peaceful demonstrations and learning opportunities aimed at the unification and growth of the entire University community, condemnation of hate speech, and conversations about combating discriminatory behavior. The week included a teach-in, where teachers held open lectures about racial and social justice both on and beyond Grounds; a love speech wall that encouraged students to leave positive messages around Grounds to counter hate speech, and an Occupy the Rotunda rally, a peaceful protest aimed at communicating dissatisfaction to University administrative leaders. Maddie Boehnlein, a second year student, participated in week’s events. “I’m both really grateful and sorrowful for its presence on Grounds. It’s incredible to see the sheer magnitude of students coming together and working to make U.Va. a safe space for everyone, regardless of color, religion, or background…but it’s also really tragic that these events had to be held.”
As members of minority communities on Grounds, the Eliminate the Hate Campaign was a crucial, edifying movement that voiced the concerns of minority students in addition to calling for equality and tolerance amongst the University as a whole. One of the most encouraging aspects of the campaign was that its open and inclusive foundations demonstrated the overwhelming support of the student body and faculty in our attempt to eradicate bigotry and discrimination at UVa. Individuals from all backgrounds could be seen and heard across Grounds advocating for inclusivity and respect, and throughout the entire week, the support of thousands of students and faculty members was visibly shown. This in itself exhibits the ongoing efforts of the University community to continually make our Grounds a safe and welcoming space for everyone, and moving forward, this campaign highlights the desire of many students and faculty members to continue to stand in solidarity against discrimination.
Although many are disappointed in the University community for succumbing to acts of hate there is still an incredible amount of hope for the future, evidenced by the willingness of both students and faculty members to participate in the Eliminate the Hate events. No community, school, or society is perfect, but it is clear that on Grounds, there is a steadfast commitment to enacting change and improvement. Maurice Wallace, an associate professor in the Department of English and an advocate for racial and social justice on Grounds, encourages students to challenge themselves not only to refrain from acts of intolerance but also actively work to counter them, saying, “Power is not equivalent to force. Justice is not reducible to legalities. And love is far more than an emotional attachment. All make up a social ethic that might better govern our lives together, if we are committed to them. This is all we have, and all we have to do, to realize our better citizenship. To realize what it means to be, to say nothing of what it means to love, a neighbor in the present age. As James Baldwin said, ‘Everything now is in our hands. We have no right to assume otherwise.’”
Submitted by Daniel Rocha (CLAS 2018) and Jordan Kijewski (CLAS 2019)