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Enacting change from home: Student organizations raise donations for the Black Lives Matter movement remotely

Despite a pandemic, several student organizations are taking action from home

<p>CIO leaders expressed that this movement has made it clear that every group on Grounds must critically re-evaluate their mission statements, membership processes and club cultures to be inclusive of Black lives.&nbsp;</p>

CIO leaders expressed that this movement has made it clear that every group on Grounds must critically re-evaluate their mission statements, membership processes and club cultures to be inclusive of Black lives. 

As protests against racism and police brutality continue across the country, many students and University organizations have been contributing to the Black Lives Matter movement by organizing fundraisers for both local and national bail funds, as well as general funds and collectives regarding travel, disaster and relief, business and legal assistance. There have been at least five protests in Charlottesville following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police on May 25, the most recent of which occurred Saturday.

Over the past few weeks, the Black Student Alliance has made donations to Charlottesville organizations that are dedicated to empowering the Black community. JaVori Warren, president of BSA and a rising fourth-year College student, stated that BSA has donated money from its own resources, and encouraged others to donate through a statement released June 1.

“We appreciate the U.Va. student organizations that have matched these donations,” Warren said. “We also encourage others at the University to turn their monetary support to local organizations, whether they are in Charlottesville or one’s hometown, as the decolonial, anti-racist work that the current revolution is rooted in is not as distant as it may seem.”

On June 2, Phi Sigma Pi — a gender-inclusive honor fraternity — organized a fundraiser remotely and raised a total of $47,874.44 by June 4 using social media.

“Some PSP executive board members and I decided that we wanted to go beyond just making a statement of support for the Black Lives Matter movement,” said Emmy Monaghan, president of PSP and a rising fourth-year College student. “In the first 30 minutes, we already had over $500. We set a deadline for the fundraiser so that we could donate funds to where they were urgently needed but also get people to donate right away and create some sense of an ultimate goal for PSP.” 

By the end of the campaign, PSP had 910 individual donations with an average donation of $30.63. About 25 percent were from current brothers, alumni or donations from other chapters of PSP. Five donations were from CIOs — Hot Kids Comedy, Outdoors Club, U.Va. Mighty, Future Business Leaders of America at U.Va. and Phi Alpha Delta. 

Monaghan estimates that about 50 to 60 percent of the donations came from current or recently graduated students at the University that are not in PSP.

PSP plans to evenly disperse the nearly $50,000 in funds among several organizations — Richmond Mutual Aid & Disaster Relief, Black Visions Collective, Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, Reclaim the Block, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Lending Hands Charlottesville, National Balck Midwives Alliance, Chicago Community Bail Fund, Chicago Black and Brown Business Relief Fund and the LGBTQ Freedom Fund. She noted that this list was compiled by the brotherhood, who chose organizations that were meaningful to them.

Two other CIOs — Take Back the Night and Culture of Respect Educators — said they were inspired by PSP to create their own combined fundraising drive beginning June 5 and ending June 8. 

In honor of the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as the beginning of Pride Month, the student groups chose to start a fundraising drive for organizations that supported Black transgender communities.

“The intersection of these issues [sexual violence and racial police brutality] is symptomatic of a larger problem at hand — systems of power and oppression that profit off the incarceration and brutalization of Black people,” said Veronica Sirotic, outgoing chair of TBTN and Class of 2020 College graduate. “Sexual violence prevention efforts have historically painted sexual violence as a white woman’s issue, yet it is imperative to remember that police brutality and sexual violence disproportionately impact Black communities. Black queer and trans communities are even further affected, with little to no attention lent to their experiences.” 

According to the National Organization for Women, on average, one in five women are victims of sexual assault, and over 18 percent of Black women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.

Members of TBTN and CORE spammed social media with homemade graphics advertising the four-day drive. They pledged to match up to $1,350 of their own own funds that others raised, and at the end of the four days, were able to raise over $8,000. The majority of donations came from students, as well as alumni and the Seven Society.

“It is important to mention that groups like CORE, TBTN [and] PSP do not have the extensive alumni networks and/or constituent wealth like other U.Va. organizations, yet were able to raise significant amounts of money,” Sirotic said.

TBTN and CORE plan to electronically donate the funds to five organizations that support Black transgender communities — Black Trans Emergency Protestors Fund, BTFA Collective, Black Trans Travel Fund, Marsha P. Johnson Institute and For the Gworls.

Our Revolution U.Va. — a leftist student political group — posted a fundraising goal of $500 on social media June 8, and within three hours of posting, they met that goal. John Gnik, a student organizer for Our Revolution and a rising second-year College student, said that social media was incredibly effective for raising donations.

“On Twitter, the left — specifically leftist college organizations — have successfully created a network of unified organizers,” he said.

Gnik noted there are numerous petitions currently being circulated around Twitter concerning the movement, and bail funds for protestors across the country are receiving thousands of dollars in support daily. Our Revolution U.Va. donated its funds towards supplies for last Saturday’s protest in Charlottesville, and plans to donate the rest to the Charlottesville NAACP and Richmond bail fund.

On Monday, the Organization of African Students held a fundraiser which will last until the end of June to raise funds for the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as LGBTQ+ organizations in honor of Pride month. Ibukunoluwa Omole, vice president of OAS and a rising fourth-year College student, said the organization has raised around $400 by sharing a bingo sheet on social media aimed at encouraging people to donate.

“We're getting donations from everyone, because we literally all come from different places and we interact with different types of people, different groups,” Omole said of the widespread support. “I think that's what has really helped us — that we're not all just from one social circle. We all intertwine with everyone.”

OAS plans to donate to the African Rainbow Family, an NGO supporting LGBTQ+ members that are seeking asylum. Other donations will benefit a fund created through Congregate Charlottesville to support protesters in the Charlottesville community. While they haven’t yet compiled an exhaustive list of organizations, OAS is looking to donate funds to underrepresented groups or individuals in need — as opposed to bail funds, which have been receiving a surplus of support.

Omole also noted that OAS is run by an all-female executive team this year, and one of her future goals is to work with other groups on Grounds to create an open space for Black women to come together as a community to make sure they can vocalize their feelings amid news of violence.

“All the information we're consuming, it can feel very isolating, especially with a pandemic,” Omole said of the initiative.

In the foreseeable future, Omole stated that she hopes her organization can keep raising money, however, she added that she’s concerned about supporters’ ability to keep the momentum going.

“I guess that's my biggest fear, and that's one of OAS’s biggest fears — is that everything is going to die out, or we're just going to forget just how important this is,” Omole said. 

Monaghan hopes the fundraisers can serve as evidence behind the power of the University community coming together.

“I hope that PSP's efforts, along with the hundreds of non-member students that contributed to the fundraiser, can be an example for other CIOs, ISC and IFC to critically examine how they use their power and influence on Grounds,” she said.

Recently, the Jefferson Literary and Debating Society received backlash from students for not donating money to the Black Lives Matter movement despite its $25,000 in liquid cash. In response, the Society held a discussion on its history and actions going forward,  launching a donation matching campaign that will match up to $13,000 in donations to organizations committed to justice, equity and Black lives. The Society is soliciting donations from within their alumni network and regular membership.

In an interview with The Cavalier Daily, Alexander Gregorio, president of the Jefferson Society and a third-year Law student, said that the Society has already raised almost $2,000 within the first week of the campaign.

The funds will be disbursed to a variety of organizations selected by the membership in the fall after their first in-person meeting. Per the Society’s bylaws, they are unable to make a donation now because the budget has to be approved by members in good standing at the start of the fall 2020 academic year. The Society’s lawyer confirmed that if they were to donate money preemptively, and then not ratify it, the executive board will have committed embezzlement. 

Gregorio also acknowledged the society’s past actions, citing its decision to gift a cane to historical figure Representative Preston Brooks, who in 1856 beat Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts with a cane in the Senate Chamber because Sumner attacked the institution of slavery and pro-slavery senators. He also cited the poor choice to contribute to the Confederate cause during the Civil War. 

“We have benefitted, and continue to benefit, from structures of white supremacy both within the Society and at the University,” Gregorio said. “We have been complacent in the face of injustice within our organization, and we look forward to beginning the process of making remedies that have been long overdue. We stand in solidarity with other students and organizations on Grounds supporting Black Lives Matter.”

He added that the Society is also trying to be more inclusive within its membership. According to Gregorio, the Society is refocusing parts of its executive committee towards including and promoting students of color. This includes enacting mandatory implicit bias training, revising its Speaker Series to better host and promote Black voices, reforming its Outreach Chair position to better focus on diversity, equity and inclusion — as opposed to broad marketing — and refocusing internal applications to ask applicants on their ideas to promote racial justice inside the Society.

The Society also created an internal task force on equity and anti-racism, which will investigate how it can continue to promote anti-racism efforts and ensure that it does not regress on this issue. The Society will be hosting a virtual roundtable event open to the public on racial equity and anti-racism before the return to Grounds this fall. 

Gregorio stated that this year's annual Restoration Ball donations will be given to Black student groups, whereas previously this donation was given to Lawn restoration efforts. The Society is also seeking out and has contacted Grounds architects who supervise Jefferson Hall in order to install a plaque in front of Hotel C, West Range that acknowledge the indigenious land the building is built upon, as well as the role of enslaved laborers in creating it. 

Sirotic and Monaghan both said that the Black Lives Matter movement has made it clear that every group on Grounds must critically re-evaluate their mission statements, membership processes and club cultures to be inclusive of Black lives. 

“I'm really excited to witness the continued change within organizations as people use the momentum of BLM to hold executive boards accountable,” Monaghan said.

Ringer also acknowledged that CORE is a predominately white, heterosexual club advocating for survivors and trying to prevent an issue that disproportionately affects BIPOC, members of the LGBTQ+ community and the disabled. Therefore, she said, they have to reckon with the lack of diversity in its membership and in who historically and currently is receiving their programming. 

Ringer added that predominately-white organizations and the University itself must be active and intentional in the way they approach helping others in realizing that change starts from within.

While BSA, PSP, TBTN, CORE, Our Revolution U.Va., OAS and the Jefferson Society all contributed to the Black Lives Matter movement by raising funds, this list is not exhaustive. Other organizations like the University Guide Services, Outdoors Club, Pi Beta Phi and the Yellow Journal have participated in fundraising as well, and other groups are likewise responding to the cause.  

This article has been updated.

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