University President Jim Ryan sent the University community another statement Wednesday afternoon addressing the nationwide protests over the murder of George Floyd and continued police brutality toward Black Americans. The updated statement comes four days after Ryan posted a reflection on social media, which faced criticism from many community members for what they saw as a failure to adequately address the underlying causes of ongoing protests.
Ryan began his most recent statement by condemning the murder of Floyd and providing brief context surrounding the history of “this sort of violence against Black people.” He then apologized for his previous statement — which he called “inadequate” — clarifying that his initial remarks were written from a state of “deep despair.”
“In my own despair, in indulging in it, I failed to express the genuine sorrow I feel for the unequal and unfair burden that I know our Black students, faculty and staff carry with them not just through this episode, but through every day,” Ryan wrote. “George Floyd’s death is just another sharp reminder that far too many people of color in this country live a life that is less secure — less safe — than white people, in part because of encounters with police officers who inflicted harm on people they were meant to protect.”
On Monday, the Black Student Alliance at U.Va. issued a list of demands from “students seeking liberation from the past,” which included divesting from the police; removing on-Grounds commemorations of white supremacists, eugenicists and slaveholders; and expanding the University’s relationship with the Charlottesville community beyond the role of “a labor resource.”
“It is not enough to solely acknowledge the systemic inequality and racism facing and killing Black Americans. If the University of Virginia is truly committed to cultivating an inclusive community, it would take immediate action,” read the statement from BSA, seemingly in response to Ryan’s first statement.
Additionally, 18 students co-authored a response to Ryan’s statement in which they condemned his “passive leadership” and made demands such as required Orientation programming on the history of slavery and racial injustice at the University. The letter has garnered support from over 150 student organizations and has collected over 1,400 student signatures as of press time.
Ryan’s second, lengthier statement briefly and indirectly references some of the issues raised in the students’ demands. He mentions that becoming a “trusted neighbor” to the Charlottesville community and “increasing student and faculty diversity” is part of his 10-year strategic plan.
Ryan also introduced a new “racial equality task force” to be led by Ian Solomon, dean of the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy; Kevin McDonald, vice president for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; and Barbara Brown Wilson, assistant professor in the School of Architecture and faculty director of the Equity Center. The group will, according to Ryan, gather input from across the University community and deliver “a concrete and prioritized set of recommendations about the best steps forward, including actions that can be implemented right away.” The statement does not indicate how students and faculty can submit suggestions or a deadline for doing so.
Ryan also addressed that the University is itself imperfect when it comes to racial equality in several aspects and in its relationship with the Charlottesville community, adding that he remains committed to the work that must be done.
“There is more work to do in order for U.Va. to look more like the state and country in which we live,” Ryan wrote.
Although Ryan drew criticism from community members for previously denouncing the violence that has erupted in many cities across the nation during protests, he did not address this concern in his new statement.
Ryan also quoted a previous speech from the anniversary of the 2017 Unite the Right rally. The previous University administration was criticized for its lack of preparation ahead of the rally, as white supremacists were allowed to walk down the Lawn and University police only intervened after students were attacked.
“I am surely an imperfect [ally], which is to say I am human, like all of you,” Ryan said in 2018. “I will disappoint some of you for doing too much and others for doing too little, some for going too fast and others for not going fast enough.”