Second-year students look back on legacy of Aug. 11 and 12 events

Students express desire to work for change within their class as a response to the white supremacist rallies

18279_dsc_7517_2f

White supremacists held a torchlit march at U.Va. on Aug. 11, 2017. 

As the anniversary of the Aug. 11 and 12 white nationalist rallies on Grounds and in downtown Charlottesville approach this upcoming weekend, the one-year anniversary of the Class of 2021’s initial arrival on Grounds follows close behind it. The class moved in the weekend after the horrific events, adding a somber layer to the usual anxieties of beginning a new season of life. 

Unlike any other class currently at the University, the Class of 2021 — rising second-year students — have only experienced the University first-hand as it has been affected by the events of last August, beginning immediately with their move-in weekend. As students shuttled cardboard boxes and decorations from their cars to their new dorm rooms, members of the media swarmed throughout residence areas with cameras and microphones to interview first-year student and their families about their thoughts on the events of the previous weekend.

Tyler Windsor, a second-year College student and former First Year Council president, said that the events of last August both frightened and upset him, as he felt the picture being painted of the University was not an accurate one. 

“It was a scary thing,” Windsor said. “Seeing that kind of light being shed on U.Va. — it’s just not what U.Va. is. It’s not what it represents, it’s not what it should be.”

Second-year College student Arya Royal arrived on Grounds last August as an out-of-state student from Missouri who visited the University only once prior to move-in weekend. Unlike Windsor, Royal said she perceived the images displayed throughout the media to be accurate representations of the University and Charlottesville.

“I assumed that this place reflected what I was seeing on TV,” Royal said. “I definitely had a heightened sense of awareness, and I definitely brought in a sense of not belonging here already.”

Second-year Curry student Makayla Bacon and her family were also initially concerned about the events’ representation of the University and the state of security on Grounds following the weekend. However, Bacon said she immediately felt safe and welcome on Grounds after moving in. 

“There were worries from me and my parents about just safety and the environment I would be walking into because of the recent events,” Bacon told The Cavalier Daily. “However, as soon as I got there, I immediately felt welcome … [the University] definitely cracked down on security and making sure that the campus was very safe.”

The University took several measures to tighten security around Grounds, including increasing the presence of ambassadors — volunteer safety patrol members — around the Rotunda, Corner and first-year residence areas and designating the Lawn a facility to prohibit open flames. Sullivan also announced the creation of a Dean’s Working Group headed by Law School Dean Risa Goluboff. The working group was charged with critically evaluating the University’s response to Aug. 11 and 12 and proposing policy changes, including new speech regulations which restricts the ability of individuals unaffiliated with the University to gather on Grounds. 

Several more moments throughout the start of the school reflected the University’s attempts to make an inclusive, welcoming space for the new first-years, beginning with honor convocation and speeches from several University administrators, such as Sullivan and Dean of Students Allen Groves, and student leaders, like former Student Council President Sarah Kenny, offering encouragement to move forward after the previous weekend. And for the first time ever, the University mandated that all first-year students complete a new Implicit Bias online module — a computer program which educated students on the realities of underlying prejudices or negative attitudes that may subconsciously affect individual actions.

However, not every student felt the University was doing enough to help their newest students feel welcome and secure on Grounds. To Royal, the University was apathetic towards white nationalists and lacked a proper emotional response to students on Grounds, particularly in regards to students from minority backgrounds. 

“I felt like there was a definite disconnect between how students felt and how administration treated especially minority students,” Royal said. “It felt, anyway, more like protecting the University from harm to their reputation than actually trying to help students cope.”

Royal said she chose to turn her feelings about Aug. 11 and 12 and the University’s subsequent response into action for change by becoming involved in the Minority Rights Coalition — the umbrella organization that advocates for minority student organizations on Grounds. 

“I joined MRC’s Advocacy Committee probably as a result of this, just because I thought it was so important to be a part of the organizations that were trying to impact change,” Royal said. 

Like Royal, Windsor chose to take action in order to create a sense of belonging for first-years. Alongside other members of First Year Council, Windsor assisted in the creation of the Diversity Committee on the Council last year. The committee provided first-year students from minority or underrepresented backgrounds a place to make their voice heard and connect with other first-year students from similar backgrounds. The committee will continue into the Second Year Council this upcoming school year.  

“[The Diversity Committee] puts such a specific emphasis on reaching out to groups who might feel underrepresented or might feel like they’re not appreciated enough and give them a platform to send out their message,” Windsor said. “That was something really big we did, and we got a lot of support from that.”

Bacon’s desire to become more involved on Grounds came after being inspired by the way the Charlottesville and University communities rallied together after the events. 

“I just saw how the community and the students rallied together and it just really gave me a good sense of pride in my school, so I wanted to go out and get involved in as much as I could with the students,” Bacon said. 

Like Bacon, Windsor takes pride in the many ways the members of the Class of 2021 demonstrated strength and resilience throughout the school year. 

“I just really want to express how proud I was of how our class handled it and how strong we were,” Windsor said, “because the hand we were dealt as a class was a tough hand.”

related stories