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Students weigh in on whether U.Va. should have issued alerts after recent white nationalist rally

A look at the U.Va. alert system after this past weekend’s rally

<p>Saturday evening University alumnus Richard Spencer returned to Charlottesville with a group of white supremacists for a torchlit rally at Emancipation Park that they dubbed “Charlottesville 3.0.” &nbsp;</p>

Saturday evening University alumnus Richard Spencer returned to Charlottesville with a group of white supremacists for a torchlit rally at Emancipation Park that they dubbed “Charlottesville 3.0.”  

Student leaders have mixed feelings about the University alert protocol with regards to the return of white supremacists to Charlottesville this past weekend. A community-wide alert was not issued to students, but student leaders were made aware of the situation.

Saturday evening University alumnus and white nationalist Richard Spencer returned to Charlottesville with other white nationalists for a torchlit rally at Emancipation Park they dubbed “Charlottesville 3.0.” This was the first time white nationalists have returned to Charlottesville since their Aug. 11 torchlit march and Aug. 12 “Unite the Right” rally. The events surrounding the rally ultimately resulted in three deaths and numerous injuries. 

Saturday’s gathering was the fourth event of its kind this year to attract white nationalists and supremacists to Charlottesville. A similar torchlit white nationalist rally was held in Emancipation Park in May and members of the Ku Klux Klan rallied in Justice Park in July. 

This past Saturday’s white nationalist rally was followed by a group of students, faculty and community members marching to University President Teresa Sullivan’s residence at Carr’s Hill, where they protested the torchlit rally. Police declared the protest an unlawful assembly just after 11 p.m. and individuals dispersed shortly thereafter. 

Charlottesville Police were present for the duration of the white nationalist rally earlier in the evening at Emancipation Park, near the city’s Downtown Mall, and the event did not result in any arrests. The gathering lasted about 20 minutes, from 7:40 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. 

The University’s alert protocol dictates that University police are responsible for sending University-wide alerts. Because the rally occurred at a downtown location and Charlottesville Police were present, a University-wide alert was not sent.

“The University has a written policy regarding the issuance of ‘Emergency Alerts,’ which describes the circumstances under which an alert will be issued,” University Spokesperson Anthony de Bruyn said in an email to The Cavalier Daily.

The protocol on emergency alerts states notifications will be sent “regarding critical incidents that pose an imminent threat to the health or safety of the University community. Examples of such emergency incidents include, but are not limited to severe weather, hazardous materials incidents and acts of criminal violence that broadly threaten the safety of the University community.”

After the white nationalist rally, Marsh Pattie, the University’s assistant vice president for student affairs and associate dean of students, and Allen Groves, associate vice president and dean of students, emailed Leadership 2000 (L2K) members — leaders of several major student organizations on Grounds — as well as members of Housing and Residence Life staff. 

“We wanted to ensure student leaders were informed as they often receive questions from their groups/residents,” Marsh said in an email to The Cavalier Daily.

Evelyn Wang, a fourth-year Commerce student and Minority Rights Coalition chair, emailed Groves around 8 p.m. Saturday to check if University officials were aware of the white nationalist rally. Groves replied that he had immediately notified both University and Charlottesville Police departments. Students began gathering at the Jefferson statue soon after to hear updates, including news that law enforcement was following white supremacists out of town. 

Wang’s statements in an interview with The Cavalier Daily reflect her views, not those of the Minority Rights Coalition.

“At that point, [University Vice President and Chief Student Affairs Officer] Pat Lampkin came to the Jefferson statue to keep the students updated on what was going on. She let us know that CPD was escorting the white supremacists out of Charlottesville … [and] that she was on call for the incident and would let us know if there were any other updates,” Wang said. 

Talia Sion, a fourth-year Nursing student, Lawn resident and president of the Jewish Leadership Council, said Lampkin communicated important updates to Lawn residents as well. Lampkin even offered for Lawn residents to spend the night in her Pavilion home. 

“[Pat Lampkin] was being so transparent and I was so grateful for that,” Sion said. 

In terms of communication to the broader University community, students have mixed feelings. 

“It would’ve been helpful for [the University] to issue some kind of statement just to let people know what is going on, to dispel rumors, to let students know and the community know that the University is, at least, knowledgeable of what’s going on and is being updated,” Wang said. 

Wang said she believes an exception to alert protocol should be made for events related to the Aug. 11 and 12 rally, citing students who live downtown and face legitimate danger from rallies there. 

“It feels like there was a present threat and the University did not think about how that threat could affect students who live there,” Wang said. 

Raquel Talbott, a fourth-year College student and president of the Latinx Student Alliance agreed a University-wide alert was necessary.

“I am grateful that the administration updated me about the situation, but the [L2K] email I received should have been sent out to everyone to reassure students and give clarity to the situation. It isn't up to the students to notify each other of these things, it's the administration's response,” Talbott said in an email to The Cavalier Daily. 

Eddie Castillo, a fourth-year College student and vice president of advocacy for the Latinx Student Alliance, shared a similar opinion.

“We have Jewish students, students of color, students of different backgrounds that these hateful people could potential[ly] harm if paths crossed. The university does not track where all students are at all times, and those students that were in more potential danger could also have been downtown going back home,” Castillo said in a Facebook message. “If the University cared for their students that have felt terrorized by these awful individuals and groups, there would have been a UVA alert sent out immediately.”

Sion expressed mixed sentiments on broader alerts. 

“Richard Spencer and his Nazi friends, they want attention. That’s what they’re here for. They want us to be triggered, as he said, so maybe it’s okay that not everyone’s talking about it and freaking out about it,” Sion said. “It’s really a fine line and it’s difficult to distinguish.”

Overall, student leaders interviewed by The Cavalier Daily appreciated notifications from administrators, like Groves and Pattie and the personal awareness conveyed by Lampkin. 

“Progress is being made in the fact that if Richard Spencer came anywhere near Grounds with torches, he would have been arrested,” Wang said. “But that being said, I think there’s a lot more progress that needs to be made, particularly in regard to University policy and communications.”

The Board of Visitors approved a resolution in September to bolster the University’s open flame policy. The use of open flames on University property must be approved by the Office of Environmental Health and Safety or the University of Virginia Medical Center Fire Protection Inspector’s Office. The police states that failure to comply “may result in prosecution in accordance with state and federal law.”