Protesters share demands with Sullivan

Group wants more support for undocumented students, firing of police officers in Election Night incident

nsbovprotests2rdizon

Students protest at the Board of Visitors meeting

Richard Dizon | Cavalier Daily

Student protesters were granted a meeting with University President Teresa Sullivan after storming a Board of Visitors meeting Friday, demanding the board work to make the University a safer place.

Some of the students involved in the protest were members of DREAMers on Grounds. The group’s goal is to inform the University and Charlottesville community about the challenges and issues undocumented students undergo as well as to promote better experiences for them.

Photo: Richard Dizon

The protest came days after Republican Donald Trump won the presidential election — a victory which has been met with much concern from some members of the University community due to Trump’s divisive rhetoric and controversial proposals.

The students called for the University to support students and workers who could potentially face deportation under Trump’s administration, as well an increase of resources for sexual assault survivors and an end to hate crimes.

The protest also called for the firing of three University police officers involved in an election night incident, in which Trump’s campaign slogan — “Make America Great Again” — was shouted at students through a police car’s public address system shortly after the results of the election became clear early Wednesday morning.

The officers are on paid administrative leave, and the incident is currently under investigation.

After several minutes of protesting, Rector William H. Goodwin asked protestors to leave due to fire code regulations limiting the number of people who can be present in the boardroom at one time.

BOV meetings are closed for public comment, but second-year College student Triston Smith said he saw their request to leave as a “slap in the face.”

“It’s time to actually be here and be in the frontlines working to fight for ourselves because nobody else is going to fight for us,” Smith said. “That’s exactly what they’re showing us especially in closing the doors and not allowing anyone to speak at the open meeting.”

Smith also said there was a smaller team of students protesters who were prepared and hoping to be able to communicate directly with the board during the time slot the board scheduled for discussions of the Strategic Investment Fund.

“We had a team that was going to go in and talk to them and lay out all the things we want to see, and they weren’t able to get in,” Smith said. “There were people from DREAMers mostly on that team.”

The protest was only planned the night before and spread by word of mouth, Smith said. Approximately 25 students were involved.

Phoebe Willis, a Law student and the student member of the BOV, said she has been working to improve communication between students and the board, and could have helped the board address some of the protesters’ issues had she known what they were in advance.

“I’m not saying that their issue is not valid and not a timely issue,” Willis said. “I just think that it’s one that could have been addressed as part of the official board meeting if anyone had known that that was what they wanted to talk about.”

Willis also said storming a meeting is not an effective way for students to have their voices heard. If students wish to speak with the board, they can either submit a proposal to the board, or contact individual members directly, Willis said.

Many of the demands made are important and valid concerns, Willis said, but some of the issues protesters brought up are not things the board has control over.

Sullivan met with the students at 4 p.m. Friday evening. Around 40 students attended the meeting, where they shared their demands and concerns with her.

“We will make the University as physically safe for everybody as we can and we believe that in a community of trust, we encourage respect for one another, but I also know humans fall short of their aspirations and so I can’t guarantee safety,” Sullivan said in an interview following the meeting. “I can’t guarantee your roommate, in an off moment, doesn’t say something that just devastates you. It would be beyond me — or any university president — to be able to guarantee that, but I can say that we will do what we can do make students as safe as possible, certainly physically safe.”

Hannah Borja, a second-year College student and DREAMers on Grounds member, said she wants to see the University provide more support to undocumented students and workers, such as those who are currently protected by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — a policy which shields eligible young undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. during their childhood from deportation.

“There is a lot of fear surrounding undocumented and migrant students here of the threat of deportation,” Borja said after the meeting.

Trump could bring DACA to an end if he chooses.

“The things that this president-elect is saying is actually affecting us on Grounds now, and we want to provide resources to help those students to make a safe space for them because they’re students just like us and they deserve to be here and to feel welcomed, not feel disenfranchised or feel like they are being thrown to the side,” third-year College student and DREAMers on Grounds member Jacob Marin said following the meeting.

Other suggestions brought up during the meeting included a legal aid clinic for students at the Law School and providing more funding to Counseling and Psychological Services.

Students also raised concerns about the adjudication of sexual assault cases and availability of statistics.

“There were some specific issues I’d like to look into more,” Sullivan said. “I’d like to look into some of the issues that were raised about DACA students, some of the specific comments made about support for sexual assault survivors and also about the statistics on the adjudication of our cases, so those are some of the specific things I’ve heard.”

Second-year College student Brian Cameron — who attended the protest and the meeting — said the administration did not make any specific promises to meet their demands, but described the administrators as being “in a mode of listening and reflecting.”

“I think it’s certainly going to take a lot more face-to-face time with the administration to help them understand that we see that what they are doing right now in this moment is not enough considering all of the heightened risk that so many people face,” Cameron said.

related stories