A painted message by the Zeta Phi Beta sorority on Beta Bridge was vandalized Thursday by an unknown party with the words, “It’s OK to be white,” a phrase frequently used online by white nationalists. Zeta Phi Beta, a historically-black sorority, was honoring its national founding on Jan. 16, 1920 at Howard University.
The bridge, located on Rugby Road, was defaced sometime around 1 a.m. Thursday morning, according to an email sent to The Cavalier Daily. Hours later, the graffiti was smeared and illegible.
The phrase “it’s OK to be white” started on 4chan, an online discussion board, in 2017 and was co-opted by groups like the Ku Klux Klan and white supremacist website The Daily Stormer.
“Graffiti and comments that are hateful or aimed to intimidate others are inconsistent with our shared values and have no place anywhere in our community,” University spokesperson Anthony de Bruyn said in an email statement to The Cavalier Daily.
He added the University Police Department did not receive a report of the incident and would not be launching an investigation into the matter because Beta Bridge is not University-owned property. A spokesperson for the Charlottesville Police Department told The Cavalier Daily that its detectives are not currently investigating the matter.
U.Va. students have been painting messages on Beta Bridge since 1926 — a tradition that allows students to share information with the University community. However, this is not the first time racist messages have appeared on the bridge.
For example, in September 2005, former University President John Casteen requested the FBI’s Civil Rights Unit to investigate a report of racist images and words painted on Beta Bridge. The FBI decided that the incident was artistic expression and not racially motivated, though students in the Black Student Alliance at the time told The Cavalier Daily they disagreed with this finding.
“Over many years, Beta Bridge has become a public forum for the community, similar to the free speech wall in downtown Charlottesville,” de Bruyn said. “Although the bridge is city property, it is seen by many as a place where the University community can share messages about important events in the life of the University.”
De Bruyn said that the Office of the Dean of Students has reached out to Zeta Phi Beta to offer its support.
A representative of Zeta Phi Beta declined to comment.
The University alerted the community of the incident in an email sent by Dean Groves Friday evening, labeling the graffiti a “racially motivated targeting of the sorority’s positive message on Beta Bridge.”
“We also wish to make a public statement strongly condemning this racially motivated targeting of the sorority’s positive message on Beta Bridge,” the email continued. “We are very glad Zeta Phi Beta is part of the UVA Greek community and this institution is better for their presence here.”