Black Student Alliance holds town hall meeting

In light of recent racial incidents on and near Grounds directed toward University students, the Black Student Alliance opened its first meeting of the year to University administrators and student leaders in order to discuss the recent events and related issues yesterday.

While the meeting did not outline specific plans of action, it gave community members a chance to voice their concerns and share their experiences.

"We should feel good about what we are doing, not good about what has happened," said Leonard Sandridge, University executive vice president and chief operating officer.

The meeting highlighted education and awareness within the University concerning hate incidents and crimes.

"I think this year we are really focusing on education," BSA President Aaron Blake said. "We need to embrace those who set out to harm our community, because really something is wrong with them."

The University, as an educational institution, offers a highly appropriate environment to combat the ignorance that prompts racial incidents and crimes, African-American Affairs Dean M. Rick Turner said.

"You have to learn how to teach yourself about racial terrorism," Turner said. "You have to know what hate is."

Broad-scale outreach was a common course of action proposed as a means of combating hate crimes and incidents at the University.

"We can only control ourselves," Vice President for Student Affairs Pat Lampkin said. "We cannot control the people who are doing this, but we can shift who feels comfortable here."

In addition to outreach and education, many addressed the issue of reporting an incident and awareness immediately following an incident or crime motivated by hate at the University.

While the BSA and University administrators continued to encourage students to alert University officials and student groups following a racially-charged incident, Angela Davis, associate dean of students and director of residence life, emphasized that students should first and foremost contact the Charlottesville and University Police.

Davis encouraged students who experience a hate crime or incident to gather as accurate a description as possible of those who commit acts of hate, including license plates and physical description, which could help police identify a pattern or profile.

"We have to stop being passive and just yelling back at cars," she said.

Many at the meeting noted both progress and the need for improvement within the University community.

"I am so encouraged by the change in the response at the University," said Catherine Neale, student member of the Board of Visitors. "The problem is that it is a response. We need to change our methods of prevention."

Despite the University's shortcomings, some noted the change many in the community have and continue to hope for will not come instantly.

"Institutions take time to change," Lampkin said. "[The administration] plays the continuity, [the students] play the energy."

The first 20 minutes of the BSA's meeting was a routine general body meeting, followed by a town hall style meeting allowing for participation from the community members present.

Portions of the forum were designated as a confidential "safe space" during which attendees shared personal experiences, Blake said.

BSA leaders said they were pleased overall with the meeting's outcome.

"The representatives from various community groups really pleased me," BSA President Aaron Blake said.

Despite the presence of University leaders, however, many expressed concern about those who were absent from the meeting.

"I am a little disappointed that it wasn't packed," Blake said, though she noted several other community meetings were taking place at the same time.

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