‘We are sorry’: University President Jim Ryan delivers remarks on one-year anniversary of violent torchlit march at U.Va.

Community gathers in Old Cabell Hall for ‘The Hope that Summons Us: A Morning of Reflection and Renewal’

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University President Jim Ryan addresses the crowd at Old Cabell Hall. 

Andrew Walsh | Cavalier Daily

On the one-year anniversary of a violent torchlit white supremacist rally at U.Va., University President Jim Ryan acknowledged the wide-ranging impacts the events had on the community and apologized to the counter-protesters who were attacked by white supremacists near the Jefferson statue last August. 

“We cannot turn back the clock and undo the tragedies that occurred last year,” Ryan said during an event in Old Cabell Hall Saturday morning. “Nor can we take away the pain, both physical and psychological, of those injured by the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who marched on our Grounds and who attacked members of our community both here and downtown.”

The University-organized program — entitled “The Hope that Summons Us: A Morning of Reflection and Renewal” — included musical performances, a poetry reading and remarks from Ryan. 

In his address, Ryan said, “we must admit to mistakes, including those made last year, understanding — and trusting that others understand — that mistakes in times of crises are inevitable, some avoidable and some not.”

A few weeks after the torchlit rally, then-University President Teresa Sullivan said in an interview with The Cavalier Daily her administration was “totally focused on August 12.”

“We should have been more aware that something could have happened either before or after,” she said in the interview.

The University faced sharp criticism over the past year over how it responded to the events of last August. An independent review by former U.S. Attorney Tim Heaphy criticized the University Police Department for failing to collaborate with other law enforcement agencies and adequately respond to the torchlit march through Grounds on Aug. 11. The UPD response to the torchlit rally, Heaphy’s report wrote, was “woefully inadequate.”

“We do nothing more than recognize our common humanity to say to those who were attacked around the statue last year: I am sorry,” Ryan said Saturday. “We are sorry.”

Ryan also acknowledged the role that two University alumni played in leading last summer’s rally, presumably referring to white nationalists Jason Kessler and Richard Spencer, although he didn’t specifically name them. 

“This is also the university, we should recognize — if we have the courage to be candid and open to self-examination — that graduated two of the organizers of last year’s hateful march,” Ryan said. “To be part of this community — to be an honest and courageous member of this community — we have to recognize that there is still a gap between our aspirations and our realities.”

During the program, John Charles Thomas, a University alumnus and retired Virginia Supreme Court Justice, said, “We hope … that what we do here this morning will lead to serious engagement and the exchange of view points in the days and months to come.” 

Assistant Dean Tabitha Enoch called forth on the crowd to contemplate the history of the Monacan Indian Nation, the first residents of the Albemarle County area, and their work as the original custodians of the land.

The University Chapel bells tolled in remembrance of Heather Heyer, Lt. H. Jay Cullen and trooper-pilot Berke M. M. Bates who died during the rallies last year. An adjoining moment of silence was held in the audience. Among the audience was Heather Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro.

Security measures were taken at Saturday’s event by enforcing a clear bag policy and requiring patrons to enter through metal detectors. 

The University will have also have a number of security measures in place for a protest planned for Saturday night  by activist group U.Va. Students United. The event is set to take place starting at 7 p.m. on the North Plaza of the Rotunda. The University has said there will be metal detectors and limits on the number of people who can enter the plaza.

Student activists, however, had said they did not request a strong law enforcement presence for Saturday night’s event. 

“U.Va. is trying to shut us down and is increasing the amount of police and militarization in that space,” Students United organizer Sophie Schectman said at a press conference Friday.

Some student groups have also expressed disagreement with the University’s handling of the anniversary this weekend, saying that a large police presence in Charlottesville has been an overreaction. 

Nodding to the different ways the community has grieved and fought back against the white nationalists, Ryan said the best chance for change is to work together.

“We may disagree about strategy and about tactics, but we should recognize that we are on the same side,” Ryan said. “And we are not on the side of white supremacists or neo-Nazis. That part, at least, should be easy. The harder and more important part is seeking together to close the space between aspirations and reality.”

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