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BSA President Wes Gobar addresses Board of Visitors during student comment period

BOV Academic and Student Life Committee consider issues of racial diversity, response to events of Aug. 11 and 12

<p>BSA President Wes Gobar</p>

BSA President Wes Gobar

The Board of Visitors Academic and Student Life Committee held a meeting Friday morning to discuss issues of diversity and responses to the “Unite the Right” rally on Aug. 11 and 12 among other issues.

The committee allowed for a student comment period during the meeting where Wes Gobar, Black Student Alliance president and a fourth-year College student, listed his organization’s demands in wake of the events of Aug. 11 and 12. Numerous other student organizations, including Student Council, have also signed on to the demands. 

The BSA demands address the legacy of white supremacy at the University and include measures to move Confederate plaques on the Rotunda in Special Collections and to place a plaque near the Thomas Jefferson statue to explain his history as a slave owner. Gobar said these aspects of white supremacy are part of a nationwide problem.

“U.Va.’s history with slavery and white supremacy is not unique by any means but is in fact representative of the rest of the nation,” Gobar said.

Gobar encouraged the necessity of continuing to take active measures in response to the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville last month.

“The lesson from all this is that the normal actions, all the progress we’ve made right now to this point is simply not enough,” Gobar said. “We need to take more vigorous and proactive action to move forward from August 12.”

Committee members responded to Gobar’s remarks stressing the Board’s commitment to the issue of diversity even though certain BSA demands fall outside their jurisdiction. Gobar requested the Board write an official response to the demands within the next week. 

Some of the demands on the list were addressed later that day when the Board voted to remove the Confederate plaques from the Rotunda and to designate the Academical Village as a residential space, which will allow the University to regulate the presence of firearms on the Lawn. 

Thomas Katsouleas, the University’s executive vice president and provost, spoke about the six-year plan on diversity progress. The plan includes initiatives to increase diversity among University faculty members where minorities are underrepresented.

“The first part of the six-year plan is to assemble a distinguished faculty and diverse faculty,” Katsouleas said. 

Katsouleas said University faculty can play an important role in responding to student’s concerns about the events of Aug. 11 and 12 despite the tough nature of discussing the subject.

“No faculty can give their students answers to the questions about the complex problems of society like racism and bigotry,” Katsouleas said. “We can empower our students with insight and inspire them with purpose to be the generation that solves these problems, so I think there’s no more important time for students to pursue their education at a place like U.Va. or for faculty to commit to our mission, which is to prepare citizens and leaders of democracy.”

Kerry Abrams, vice provost for faculty affairs, and Archie Holmes, vice provost for academic affairs, presented the Faculty and Student Diversity Progress Report. Abrams listed initiatives to increase the number of faculty members from racial minorities, including ways to eliminate biases in the faculty recruitment process. Holmes spoke about the University’s efforts to attract minority students and to get these students to enroll.

Other items of discussion included the renovation of Alderman Library, U.S. News and World Report’s recent ranking of the University as the third best public university nationwide and the University’s research program which is on pace to double in the next seven years.

The Committee also approved four resolutions including a professorship named after Economics Prof. Kenneth G. Elzinga, the establishment of a second James R. Schlesinger Distinguished Professorship, a revision on athletic policies and a memorial for former University faculty member Phillip A. Parrish.