Convocation speakers denounce recent violence, while students question U.Va.’s response to torchlit march

“Anybody who knew could have told us,” Teresa Sullivan tells student in U.Va. Students United video

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University President Teresa Sullivan addressing the Class of 2021 at Convocation. 

Richard Dizon | Cavalier Daily

Convocation for the Class of 2021 began Sunday evening with a statement by University Dean of Students Allen Groves, who immediately addressed the recent violence in Charlottesville. 

“We are coming off a very difficult 10 days for community,” Groves said. “But this is a remarkably resilient assembly of staff, faculty, and students and we will come out stronger.”

The Aug. 12 “Unite the Right” rally ultimately resulted in a car attack near the Downtown Mall killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring 19 other people. A torchlit white nationalist march through Grounds on Aug. 11 also turned violent when marchers clashed with counter protesters at the base of the Thomas Jefferson statue north of the Rotunda, leading to a chaotic scene and numerous injuries. 

Groves also offered a message of encouragement to the Class of 2021, asking them to help in addressing the recent challenges the University and Charlottesville communities have faced.

 “You can help us address any challenge we face,” Groves said. “You must be open to different points of views and those who have different backgrounds than you.”

University President Teresa Sullivan also spoke about the recent violence in the Charlottesville community and the white supremacy rally on the Lawn in her address to the Class of 2021.

“A little more than a week ago, members of a hate group who were fueled by hate and bigotry, marched down this lawn and in the streets of Charlottesville,” Sullivan said. “The views of those racist groups that came here last weekend contradict our deepest values and our shared commitment to diversity, inclusion and respect for everyone.”

Sullivan continued by emphasizing the strength of both the University and Charlottesville communities against hate groups and racism. 

“During the march last Friday night members of those hate groups chanted ‘you will not replace us,’ but they were wrong, and we replaced them with a candlelight vigil,” Sullivan said. “We are replacing them here again this afternoon, and we will replace them every time we drown out their voices of hate and violence with voices of respect, inclusion, and love” 

Student Council President and fourth-year College student Sarah Kenny echoed the sentiments of Sullivan in her address to the Class of 2021 in emphasizing the strength of the University community against hate. “There is a long and painful history of exclusion here [at the University],” Kenny said. “But at the candlelight vigil on Wednesday, after the racist assault on our community, we took it back.”

Kenny also urged that the Class of 2021 be willing to confront the problems that face both the University community and the world at large.

“We must be willing to look at and examine the flaws of our community and world,” Kenny said.
Kenny also read a statement issued by the Society of the Purple Shadows which denounced the white supremacist rallies at the University and in Charlottesville while calling for unity.

“The events of last weekend do not represent our values as an institution,” Kenny stated. “But the candlelight vigil this past Wednesday does. We are a society which fosters inclusion and love always wins.”

The 21 Society also issued a statement at the convocation denouncing the recent violence in Charlottesville and emphasizing the strength of the University community against hate and bigotry.  

“We must fight injustice as our Grounds were disgraced by demonstrations of hate and violence and bigotry,” a representative of the society said. “Our response was a student protest, fostering inclusion and love.”

Following convocation, U.Va. Students United, a student activist organization, went on Facebook Live as they asked Sullivan about alleged administrative inaction during the torchlit march.
In the video, a student named Caroline asked Sullivan where she was the night of Aug. 11 and why a student group knew where the white nationalists would go while University administration did not. 

Sullivan said, “anybody who knew could have told us.”

“Nobody elevated it to us. Don’t expect us to be reading the alt-right websites. We don’t do that,” Sullivan said to the student. “You know, you’ve got some responsibility here too. Tell us what you know.”

President Sullivan on administrative inaction at the August 11 white supremacist torchlit rally. TRANSCRIPT: CB: Hi, my name’s Caroline. I was one of the students surrounding the statue last Friday night, when the Nazis came. I felt very abandoned by the University, and I was just wondering, where were you Friday night? And why were you not standing with your students? TS: Well, I was across the street, trying to get police help. CB: Okay, well, where was the University administration? TS: You had Allen Groves there. I mean, we don’t have administration here all the time on a Friday night with classes not in session. We didn’t know they were coming. CB: I guess I’m just curious how a group of anonymous students knew they were coming. TS: Did you tell us? Did you tell us they were coming? No, you didn’t. Nobody elevated it to us. Don’t expect us to be reading the alt-right websites. We don’t do that. You know, you’ve got some responsibility here too. Tell us what you know. CB: So we should have brought this information to you? TS: Anybody who knew could have told us.

Posted by UVa Students United on Sunday, August 20, 2017

Sullivan previously said in an email to the University community on Aug. 15 that law enforcement learned on social media about the possibility of white nationalist protesters gathering at the Rotunda on the same day as the torchlit march. She said the University Police Department reached out to the white nationalists, but were told “contradictory and misleading details about events, locations, routes, and timing.”  

“The alt-right protestors did not do what they had said they were planning to do,” Sullivan said. “They did not follow the route they had indicated — along University Avenue to gather on the large open space on the north side plaza of the Rotunda — and instead traveled down McCormick Road and onto the Lawn.” 

On Aug. 18, Sullivan announced the formation of a working group to assess the University’s response to the events in Charlottesville. Law School Dean Risa Goluboff will be chairing this group. 

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