The release of the viral video taken at the University’s recently relocated Multicultural Student Center and the debate over multicultural spaces has galvanized the University community. Questions raised in the video — such as the appropriateness of white students gathering at the MSC — have plunged the University once again into the national limelight over issues surrounding race and ethnicity. The video has over 5 million views on Twitter, and conservative outlets such as the New York Post and Fox News pounced on the opportunity to highlight the decay of collegiate culture in the United States in their reporting of the incident. Colleges and universities — themselves often bastions of privilege — frequently provide fodder for conservative outlets to decry the growing divide between the complaints of students at elite institutions and the challenges facing various members of American society.
In the video, a student expressed her frustration over the number of white students at the MSC. She argued that the center exists to serve minority students and that white students have access to other spaces on Grounds to meet and study. She had every right to voice her opinion — just as others have the right to criticize it. The University community must foster open discourse, and the free expression of ideas remains vital to navigate situations such as this. The threats and racist comments targeting the student in the video are abhorrent and go against the very principles the University embodies.
In response to the sentiments expressed in this video, however, the University community must ask itself what kind of culture it wants to build moving forward. No doubt there are others at the University who share the views of the student who addressed those gathered at the MSC — her speech concluded with a round of applause. Regardless, to assume every member of the University community agrees with her stance would be false.
No student should ever discourage his or her peers from using resources and spaces paid for with their tuition dollars and Virginia taxpayer money. Not only does creating exclusive spaces dismiss the sacrifices many families make for students to have access to University resources, but it also undermines the very mission of a public institution that exists for the advancement and education of all Virginians — regardless of their ethnic background.
In response to the video, I urge the University administration to condemn the sentiments expressed in it. President Jim Ryan released a statement in The Cavalier Daily affirming that the center “will and should remain open to all students,” but also conveyed concern “that one of the few places traditionally ‘for’ students of color would turn into a place dominated by white students.” I am glad Ryan outlined his stance, and despite the fact that certain positions he conveyed warrant scrutiny, he has provided an example of leadership for the University community. However, the questions raised in this video reveal greater issues at stake than this one incident alone.
Americans are increasingly inhabiting self-segregated spaces — whether they be physical or digital. Neighborhoods often exclude certain people based on socio-economic status, entire towns and cities have strong partisan leanings and media outlets respond to the biases of their viewers. These trends have disastrous consequences on American society, with studies showing how economic segregation perpetuates social inequality. Institutions such as churches bridge these divides, but their power to combat these trends has also waned as church attendance has declined nationwide.
The University administration should not enable the growing movement towards self-segregation developing both here and at other institutions across the country. Civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. fought and died for equal access to spaces, employment, rights and other aspects of American society for all people. The embrace of self-segregation mystifies many and explains other concerning trends in American culture.
The University community has the ability to reject the self-segregation along ideological, socio-economic and ethnic lines rising in our nation. It can and should build a community here in which students, faculty and staff from diverse backgrounds can live and learn alongside each other. However, the progressive climate of the University will unfortunately prevent this if students fail to demand better. The administration has time and time again caved into pressures to conform to progressive dogma, with the presence of “safe spaces” on Grounds serving as just one example of this. These trends represent the decline of the University as a place of excellence and leadership in Virginia and the nation as it follows the lead of other institutions where such ideas have irrevocably taken root.
Tom Ferguson is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the authors alone.