At UVA we saw what happens when you mix White supremacy with matters of town-and-gown.
A campus community’s safety can be significantly compromised.
Because most of the violence in Charlottesville was centered around what happened in the city proper and not on campus the night before, the University of Virginia escaped a lot of the early attention in the media.
Yet, in the aftermath, it’s clear, UVA was the staging ground for the entire weekend. The torch-lit march on campus that Friday night was the prelude to the rally in the city the next day.
In the student paper, The Cavalier, Linda Columbus, an associate professor of chemistry and the associate director of the UVA Global Infectious Diseases Institute, was outraged at the university’s lack of preparation.
“I wasn’t warned,” Columbus wrote, implying that students and faculty weren’t adequately informed about a potential threat represented by the white supremacists that were about to march through campus. “What did the university do to protect [students]? Why were we so ill-prepared? Why wasn’t a police alert sent out warning the university community? Why do we still have no information about the attacks on these students?”
Too many questions and not enough answers meant fingers pointed back to President Teresa Sullivan. She admitted earlier last week that the “Unite the Right” marchers took a different route from what was shared with university police, leaving no time for a university alert.
But clearly, that wasn’t a good enough excuse
In an e-mail last Friday, Sullivan called for a working group of deans and other community members to help UVA “recover and heal.”
And, of course, she delegated the responsibility.
“I can think of no more important task at this moment,” said the group’s appointed leader, Risa Goluboff, Dean of the School of Law, in the community e-mail. “Our tasks ahead are short-term and long-term; they are about physical safety and emotional well-being; they are as practical as revising policies and as lofty as advancing human progress; and they will require us to examine what we need to do within our own community and ask what we can do beyond it.”
The e-mail indicated exploring possible restriction on what can be “constitutionally proscribed” on campus grounds; assigning “significant resources” to ensure safety; hiring an outside security firm to review existing policies; and the creation of a website as an “information hub.”
All are good things and necessary things. But just as Donald Trump has been criticized for his lack of moral leadership, UVA’s administration is rightfully faulted for its failure to lead and make important decisions, both before and during the protests.
In the campus newspaper, Sullivan defended her actions not to issue a university alert saying, “There was a compelling interest in not attracting more protesters and heightened violence.
But that did not sit well with university members like Columbus, who wrote a scathing opinion after visiting a student of hers in the hospital. The student was at both the campus rally to counter-protest the marchers, then went to the city’s pedestrian mall the next day where she was run down by the car driven by a White supremacist in the incident that killed Heather Heyer and injured 19.
“At the administrative level, the University has failed these students and betrayed the values which it claims to stand for,” Columbus wrote. “President Teresa Sullivan’s words in the wake of the tragedy lacked strength and conviction. ‘We mourn the loss of life?’ No, Sullivan, we mourn the brutal and senseless murder of a wonderful young woman, and the traumatic injuries suffered by those we faculty, administrators and staff should have protected. I agree there is a time for healing, but that time is not now. This is the time for accountability, for answering myriad questions, listening to our students and for ensuring that no such thing ever happens again at the University or in Charlottesville.”
President Trump took much of the heat last week in the mainstream media.
But UVA’s President Sullivan deserves all the heat she’s getting now from a university community that blames her for failing to protect its members.
Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. He writes for the civil rights group AALDEF at http://www.aaldef.org/blog