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An in-depth look at the BSA demands

Sullivan, other administrators respond to demands posed by the Black Student Alliance, numerous student groups

<p>This photo was taken during "The March to Reclaim Our Grounds," where BSA's demands were made central to the protest.</p>

This photo was taken during "The March to Reclaim Our Grounds," where BSA's demands were made central to the protest.

On the evening of Aug. 21, the Black Student Alliance was joined by hundreds of students and community members in a peaceful march from the amphitheatre to the Thomas Jefferson statue north of the Rotunda to protest recent white nationalist events. 

Before the march began, organizers asked those in attendance to face University President Teresa Sullivan, and read aloud to her a list of ten demands signed by various University groups before their march began. Just a few days later, the Student Council Executive Board endorsed the demands and Student Council representatives formally passed legislation in favor of the demands after a heated public comment session Tuesday evening. 

The Cavalier Daily spoke with administrators and student leaders about their responses to the each one of the demands.

Demand 1: Remove the Confederate plaques on the Rotunda. An appropriate place would be in a museum or in Special Collections.

A plaque entitled “Honor Roll” is installed on the Rotunda commemorating members of the University who died serving the Confederacy. 

While University President Teresa Sullivan declined to address specific plans for removing the plaques on the Rotunda in a recent interview, she explained an effort has been underway long before the events of Aug. 11 and 12 to add another plaque recognizing University students who fought for the Union during the Civil War. 

“For about a year and a half, a group of alumni and some people at the John Nau Center for Civil War History have been working on a parallel plaque, which is about U.Va. students who fought and died for the Union,” she said. 

Sullivan praised the effort to add a plaque memorializing Union soldiers from the University for helping to unearth a new, more positive detail about the University’s history. 

“I don’t think anybody knew there was anyone here who fought for the Union,” she said. “We are thinking about the issues that are related to how we commemorate our history, and what it is we commemorate.

Demand 2: Declare the lawn a residential space. Concealed arms and open flames should not be allowed within this space.

The Aug. 11 white nationalist march throughout Grounds was specifically characterized by marchers’ use of torches, although numerous protesters throughout the weekend carried weapons both openly and concealedly. 

According to Sullivan, one of the administration’s first steps moving forward will involve stricter enforcement of an existing University policy that prohibits the unauthorized use of open flames. 

Sullivan said she had been unaware of the broad applicability of the University’s policy, having only seen it used for more innocuous purposes. 

“I was aware of that policy to the extent that you couldn’t have candles in dorm rooms. That’s the part that I knew about…The fact that we had a more general open flame policy, I candidly was not aware of,” she said. 

She said police would be notified of the policy in the future, and that they would be put in touch with the Office of Environmental Health and Safety — the office which approves safe uses of open flames — in order to prevent unauthorized uses.

In addition to University policy, the University Police Department and administration could use a section of the Virginia Legal Code to prevent similar torchlit rallies in the future. 

State law specifically notes, “[a]ny person who, with the intent of intimidating any person or group of persons, burns an object on a highway or other public place in a manner having a direct tendency to place another person in reasonable fear or apprehension of death or bodily injury is guilty of a Class 6 felony.”

Sullivan said the University was alerted to the statute by a student after the rallies and will enforce it in the future. 

“Now that’s pretty strong, and I have to say I wasn’t aware of this, but we are aware of it now and we’re going to make sure our police are aware of it too,” she said. 

Along with these steps to restrict the use of open flames, Sullivan also said designating the Lawn as a University facility would prevent the carrying of firearms on the Lawn.

She said the University has the authority to regulate its buildings, facilities and events within the — including banning possession of firearms in those areas. Declaring the Lawn a University facility would give the administration the authority to extend those regulations to that area. 

“I am talking with the University Architect, and then I would like to go to the Board with the possibility of having the Lawn declared a facility,” she said. “It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, people are living in it, it’s an enclosed area with limited ingress and egress.”

Demand 3: Acknowledge the $1,000 gift to the University’s Centennial Fund received from the KKK in 1921; re-invest this amount, adjusted for inflation, into existing U.Va. and Charlottesville multicultural organizations; and include this racist history at U.Va. into education surrounding the Bicentennial.

Though the Office of Advancement was unable to be reached for comment, Sullivan said the office’s records did not clearly show an actual donation from the Klan to the University. 

“There was a pledge, payable over four years, and in that last year, the Klan nationally largely fell apart, so I don’t know that the money ever got paid,” she said. 

Given the disputed facts regarding whether the $1,000 was actually donated, Sullivan did not say there was any plan to re-invest the money — approximately $12,000 adjusted for inflation — to any multicultural organizations. 

“What we do in terms of that money that we might or might not have received, that’s something we still need to have a discussion about,” she said. 

University Law School Dean Risa Goluboff, who is chairing a working group that is evaluating the University’s response to recent events, said she believes the alleged gift could play a role in programming for the Bicentennial celebrations. 

“We have incredible talent here, and experts on historical memory, and architecture, and how we tell narratives about ourselves,” she said. “Part of the Bicentennial is thinking about this, how do you you grapple with a mixed history, which many universities have, which the United States has.”

Demand 4: White supremacist hate groups, particularly U.Va. alumni Jason Kessler and Richard Spencer, should be explicitly denounced and banned from campus. They have already incited and perpetrated violence against students past the point of free speech.

Spencer and Kessler have made headlines as leaders in the far-right white nationalist movement that led to the events of Aug. 11 and 12. Spencer, the head of the white nationalist National Policy Institute, and Kessler, the organizer of the “Unite the Right” rally, both attended the torchlit march held on Grounds the night before the Aug. 12 rally. 

According to University policy PRM-017, protests and demonstrations are permitted on outdoor University property as long as the protest is peaceful and does not disrupt normal operations.

“The University would have to prove that before such demonstrations, that it would be disruptive to the normal operations of the University,” said John Rutherford, president of The Rutherford Institute. “The problem is, when you have a late-night ‘walk through the campus’ or whatever, are you disrupting the normal operations of the school? Probably not.”

Rutherford said banning Kessler and Spencer from Grounds would be more difficult if an appearance by them was sponsored by a University group. According to Rutherford, that type of policy would be in violation of the First Amendment.

“You cannot have content discrimination or viewpoint discrimination — in other words, you ban people because of what they’re saying or what they believe,” Rutherford said. “The First Amendment has generally held that you can’t do that.”

However, Rutherford said, if a demonstration was to get out of control and disrupt people from going into buildings and walking around Grounds, then at that point, the University Police Department can step in and move the demonstration out or to a different area.

“If you write a policy that says, ‘we only won’t allow white supremacists,’ that policy is going to be Constitutionally-suspect, in my opinion,” Rutherford said. 

The Rutherford Institute and the ACLU of Virginia represented Kessler in a federal lawsuit against Charlottesville after the city tried to move the location of the “Unite the Right” rally. The lawsuit ultimately resulted in a federal judge issuing an injunction that allowed the rally to take place in Emancipation Park. 

Demand 5: All students, regardless of area of study, should have required education (either inside or outside the classroom) on white supremacy, colonization and slavery as they directly relate to Thomas Jefferson, the University, and the city of Charlottesville. The current curriculum changes only affect the College of Arts and Sciences and allow students to focus in on aspects of difference of their choice.

College faculty voted in 2016 to pilot changes to the general education curriculum beginning with a cohort of students in the current first-year class. It is comprised of three main components — Engagements, Literacies and Disciplines.

Other schools at the University have and are still working to implement education on diversity and difference. Nursing Dean Dorothy Fontaine said in an email to The Cavalier Daily that the Nursing school already has several courses that discuss diversity and inclusion and are working to strengthen their offerings.

“The School of Nursing has several courses that deal with racial inequity, health care disparities and social determinants of health including race,” Fontaine said. “Our faculty is having creative dialogues on how we can address the issues the BSA is raising.”

Curry School Dean Bob Pianta said in an email that faculty in the Curry School have been working on implementing bias and inclusion-related discussions into curriculum for some time.

Pianta said the Curry School has the “Common Read,” a program in which faculty and students read the same book related to diversity and inclusions and then participate in discussion groups and activities outside of class.

Pianta said because of the structure of the Curry School and its academic programs, they do not have “a specific common or core curriculum across the school,” which is why the Common Read was adopted. 

Commerce Dean Carl Zeithaml also said although Commerce students begin the programs as upperclassmen, the school still focuses on diversity education.

“We do not have students enrolled in our program until they are third-year students, and these topics are really outside of our area of expertise,” Zeithaml said. “We already have an emphasis on diversity and inclusion from a business perspective, such as our required training session for all third-year students next week and various other courses, events and curriculum throughout the year.”

Demand 6: U.Va.’s historical landscape must be balanced. The statue of Jefferson serves as an emblem of white supremacy, and should be re-contextualized with a plaque to include that history. Additionally, more buildings named after prominent white supremacists, eugenicists, or slaveholders should be renamed after people of marginalized groups.

Wes Gobar, a fourth-year College student and BSA president, said in an interview that the events of Aug. 11 and 12 show the importance of some of these demands.

“The current moment is showing how important it is to remove these symbolic facets of white supremacy,” Gobar said. “Plaques, names of buildings, things like that.”

While Sullivan did not directly address the recontextualization of the statue of Thomas Jefferson, she said University administration is looking at the ways in which the University commemorates its history.

She said, in general, her approach has been that the University should add to the knowledge of its past and find new ways to commemorate its history.

She cited the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers as an example of this approach, which she said is currently in the fundraising stage. The Board of Visitors has already approved the memorial and the design.

The renaming of buildings is an ongoing process and one University administration is currently pursuing. Sullivan said when the Board of Visitors meets on Sept. 13, they will rename Jordan Hall — named for prominent eugenicist Harvey E. Jordan — for Vivian Pinn, who was the only female, African-American student to graduate from the School of Medicine in 1967.

Sullivan briefly addressed other buildings who have already been named after people of marginalized groups, including Skipwith Hall, named for Peyton Skipwith who was a slave that quarried stone for buildings at the University and Gibbons House, a first-year residence dorm named for slaves William and Isabella Gibbons.  

Demand 7: Expand the working group on University response to the events of Aug. 11-12, 2017 to represent students of color and those affected by the violence of Aug. 11-2.

On Aug. 18, Sullivan announced in a University-wide email the creation of a working group of deans and other University community members to lead efforts in assessing the University’s response to the events of Aug. 11 and 12, led by Goluboff.

The deans in the working group are the deans of the 11 schools and the libraries that comprise the University. Deans from admission and central administration, for example, are excluded from the working group. Goluboff believes this smaller group is vital in promoting efficient and effective action.

“When President Sullivan created the working group, she created it so that it could move quickly and do work expeditiously. I think if you’ve read what we’ve done in the last 10 days, we’ve done a lot,” Goluboff said. “I think there are pros and cons to having a small groups, and I think the pros are we can move. The potential con would be making sure you hear voices, and that’s something, we absolutely have to hear voices, but I don’t think they have to be on the working group.”

Bryanna Miller, a fourth-year College student and the student member of the Board of Visitors, is a member of the working group tasked with making the student perspective heard.

Additionally, Goluboff has met with various students and had more meetings planned in order for students to voice their concerns regarding the group.

“We’re thinking about the ways in which we can create other venues to hear voices in addition to the community input forum that we have on the website, which we’ve gotten many emails and ideas and suggestions from,” Goluboff said.

“I actually think the working group as set up is in a good form, and that the reason a student might want to be on the group is to have a voice,” Goluboff added. “They already have a voice through Bryanna, but I also want to make sure they have even more of a voice through various means, but I’m not sure that it’s on the working group itself.”

Demand 8: As of last year, the percentage of African American undergraduate students enrolled in the University was 6.4%. The University must take action to ensure that as a public university, this number is reflective of state demographics at a 12% proportion. Given the impact of recent events, action on this step is crucial.

Gobar noted that the disparities mentioned in some of these demands affects a lot of different groups.

“Although we’re using that as an example, it’s not just African-American students,” Gobar said. “But I would say that I think they are going to be disproportionately affected by policies in terms of recruiting and enrollment moving forward.”

According to Maurice Apprey, Dean of the Office of African-American Affairs, the frequently quoted 6.4 percent figure for African-American undergraduate enrollment at the University is a misleading percentage. In fall 2016, there was a total on-Grounds African-American student enrollment of 8.14 percent, with 9.2 percent within the first-year class. This apparent discrepancy is a result of a change in the federal requirements for counting that occurred in 2009, thus making pre-2009 data incomparable to data shown in previous years. 

“If you’re Hispanic and African-American, don’t ask me why, Hispanic trumps African-American. You can also check the ‘mixed’ box. Tiger Woods and President [Barack] Obama probably wouldn’t be counted,” Apprey said.

Apprey said he cautioned against quick action, and instead called on the administration to carefully plan how to best increase the enrollment of African-American students. As a public institution, there are financial barriers that prevent a merit scholarship system that Apprey said he believes would be beneficial to retaining highly-qualified minority students to top private universities. 

“If the administration of the University of Virginia can do something about increasing the number, they’ll have to address two things — merit scholarships to retain the best and the brightest, and two, provide more resources and more infrastructural support for when the students come,” Apprey said. “You can’t do it the other way, you cant use the percentage, have the students arrive, and then figure out what you do. That’s not how you make decisions with this. You’ve got to anticipate, prepare and solve the problem.” 

Francesca Callicotte, a third-year College student and president of United for Undergraduate Socioeconomic Diversity, said she signed onto the BSA demands because UFUSED has a specific interest in increasing the percentage of minority students at the University. She said she believes a long-term approach would be more productive. 

“They didn’t say, ‘reach 12 percent in a year,’ it was stating that we want you to recognize and put us as a priority for the next years,” Callicotte said. “I think it’s completely feasible because they gave a lot of legroom for the administration to decide how they’re going to achieve these goals, and what is a respectable amount of time in order to do so. I expect the administration to respond, I’m hoping that the administration responds, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t.”

Demand 9: In 2016, the percentage of African American faculty was 3%. This percentage is unacceptable and disproportionate to the number of African American students. This disparity exists across all minority groups. Thus, proportion of faculty for an underrepresented group should strive to match the proportion of the student population of that group at minimum.

As with increasing African-American enrollment on the student level, Apprey said the practical solution to this low percentage of African-American faculty at the University requires a long-term process and attitude shift rooted in the undergraduate level. 

“The answer to me is not going to be in the product, the numerical product, but in the process, the pipeline process,” Apprey said.

According to him, the statistics for diverse faculty 35 years ago was at or below 4 percent nationwide, just as it is today. He said he thinks it stems from a lack of interest in pursuing a doctoral education.

“How do you get undergraduate students to get excited about research and other forms of inquiry in the undergraduate years, sustain it at the masters and doctoral and postdoctoral level so they can be prepared for the responsibilities of the faculty world,” Apprey said. “It’s a national problem, and a process issue.” 

Demand 10: Issue a strategic and actionable diversity plan, with input sourced from minority student leadership, as done by peer institutions such as Georgetown University, Brown University, and Virginia Tech. This plan should include a special emphasis on improving diversity and inclusion for faculty, staff, and students of color, as well as relations with the Charlottesville community. 

Apprey said these plans already exist. 

“We just have to publish it,” he said. “All schools have them.”


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