A coalition of contracted independent organizations at the University came together Thursday and Friday to organize a virtual two-day walk out to draw attention from the administration on demands and reparations centered around the University’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The groups’ demands included meeting 100 percent of students’ financial need, distributing hazard pay to University employees and acknowledging the University’s complicity in the COVID-19 outbreak that followed in-person Inter-Fraternity Council and Inter-Sorority Council recruitment, among others.
“U.Va. continues to commit harm through its disregard for marginalized students, workers and community members,” the group said on its website listing the demands. “We are tired. We will not accept this any longer.”
The groups involved in organizing the campaign included the Minority Rights Coalition, Black Student Alliance, Political Latinxs for Movement and Action Society, Asians Revolutionizing Together, Black Muslims at U.Va., undocUVA, Muslims United, U.Va. Beyond Policing, Young Democratic Socialists of America at U.Va., United Campus Workers at U.Va. and resident advisors.
The campaign gained attention on Twitter and Instagram through retweets and reposts, linked with the hashtag “#COVIDActionNOW.” The pledge to walk out received 671 signatures, only 129 away from its goal of 800, as of Wednesday.
The first day of the walk out was organized Thursday and coincided with an itinerary of events students could attend centered around mental health and proactive engagement to draw attention to the groups’ demands. A number of students led the virtual events, which included “Letter and Poetry Writing” and “Moment of Mindfulness.”
Thursday was when students who participated in the walkout were supposed to virtually “walk out” of their classes, which meant leaving in-person classes or Zoom classes after just 10 minutes. Students who walked out of class changed their Zoom background to a picture with “#COVIDActionNow” and the statement “Rest is Revolutionary.”
Jasmine Mao, fourth-year College student and core member of Asians Revolutionizing Together, was one of the key organizers for this event. Mao said part of this campaign was to allow students and faculty a moment to rest from the work they have been doing this semester.
“Rest when we have been forced to continue going about our days as if U.Va. is not actively causing harm against workers, marginalized students and the local residents of Charlottesville is an act of refusal,” Mao said.
Some students who participated believed that the walk out was efficient and supported by their professors. Organizers as well as students remarked that they experienced very little resistance from the professors, except for a few professors who did not know the walkout was taking place at all prior.
Fourth-year College student Andrew Chin, who participated in the walkout, said that he didn’t experience any hostility from professors because his classes don’t have required attendance. Mao agreed, adding that the group did not generally receive much resistance from the University
“Besides a few professors who, sadly, did not take the time to read the demands or simply do not understand the meaning of care and well-being, we did not confront any pushback from the University,” Mao said.
On Friday, the second day of the walkout, organizers called for students to email a list of administrators, including University President Jim Ryan and Dean of Students Allen Groves. The template in the email asked administrators to take responsibility for their response to the pandemic and listed the event’s demands.
In an email response to the group, President Ryan acknowledged he received students’ concerns.
“We’re working hard to support our students, faculty, and staff through the pandemic, and we’ll be sure to take your ideas into account as we consider policies going forward,” Ryan said. “I am truly sorry that you and your fellow students have to experience University life in a pandemic. Thank you for the many sacrifices you’ve made to keep yourself and your peers safe. I wish you the best for the rest of your semester, and thanks again for reaching out.”
Part of the #COVIDActionNow demands were for the University to suspend the IFC and ISC as well as to issue a formal apology to students, faculty and staff acknowledging that the IFC and ISC are to blame for the COVID-19 outbreak that occurred at the beginning of the spring semester.
Ryan first announced a ban on in-person events Feb. 16 when the University community reached a record high of 229 cases in one day. Some students speculated that this rise in cases was due to in-person elements of Greek life recruitment, which occurred during the two-week period before Ryan announced the restrictions. After speculation from students and community members over the cause of this restriction, the University said that Greek life recruitment was not the main contributor to the outbreak during a town hall and that in-person IFC rush was only allowed under strict gathering limits and social distancing.
Another large part of the demands were for student reparations due to the pandemic, including providing stimulus checks of $1,500 to students who qualify for financial aid, giving DACA students financial aid through the Office of the Dean of Students and implementing tuition freeze through the 2024-2025 academic year.
“They are essentially a business and whoever gives them the needed money is all who they care for,” Chin said. “It’s time they start caring for students and actually trying to create policies that better the lives of our workers and students.”
The Board of Visitors is scheduled to meet April 13 to decide tuition for the upcoming school year. The Board has proposed anywhere from a 0 to 3.1 percent hike.
There was also a section on the official website of the organization allowing other organizations to list similar demands in accordance to COVID-19 reparations as well. Some of these sources included RAs on Grounds, Accessibility at UVA and the Black Student Alliance.
On the final day of the walk out, participants attended a town hall in the Amphitheatre or via a live-stream by U.Va. Beyond Policing to wrap up the week and reflect on what the next steps will be for this group. During the town hall, community members and students were given the opportunity to share their own opinions and demands for student aid, workers and Greek life.