The University’s social media team has been hard at work over the last few months. From highlighting the new student organization Future Medical Professionals for Life at the Fall Activities Fair to praising Young Americans for Freedom at U.Va. for their annual 9/11 memorial, the University seems to be eager to grant these groups airtime. At first glance, nothing seems amiss — the University appears to be promoting student organizations and their activities on Grounds. Underneath the hood though, these two organizations are promoting extreme and — at times — violent views.
After the Fall Activities Fair at the beginning of the semester, the University Twitter page posted images of various groups tabling. Among them was Future Medical Professionals for Life — a group which, according to its constitution, “advocat[es] for the fetal right to life both at U.Va. and in the broader community.” In the image shared on the University’s Twitter page, viewers can clearly see “protesting local abortion facilities” listed under the “volunteering” section of FMPFL’s board. Protests at abortion clinics regularly turn violent — violence at clinics hit a record high in 2018, including thousands of tresspassing and obstruction incidents. Abortion is healthcare and abortion clinics are doctor’s offices. Protesting not only traumatizes patients and clinic staff, but it also has the potential to cause serious physical harm. Such activities should be actively condemned, not widely shared by the University. Students should not be harassing patients at Charlottesville’s healthcare clinics because they disagree with the services they are providing.
Last spring, FMPFL’s president made a splash for arguments he previously made in a series of Instagram comments that “abortion is the greatest genocide of all time and too many people are becoming Hitler in this scenario.” Multiple groups issued scathing condemnations in response — including the University’s chapter of Planned Parenthood Generation Action and a collection of Jewish student leaders. FMPFL may cosplay as a quaint anti-abortion organization, but their promotion of violence against abortion clinics and unapologetic Holocaust comparisons show their true colors. It is abhorrent that the University would turn a blind eye and promote them anyway.
Another instance of conservative extremism is the YAF at U.Va., an organization committed to spreading ideas of individual freedom, a strong national defense, free enterprise and traditional values. Each fall, the University chapter of YAF places 2977 American flags on Grounds to memorialize the lives lost in 9/11. This one event cannot be taken out of YAF’s wider history, though. In 2018, the chapter welcomed former governor George Allen to Grounds despite Allen’s past usage of racial slurs and opposition to recognizing Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the Commonwealth. Most recently, YAF has doxxed student activists they claimed were “attack[ing]” their members and incited threats of violence against members of Student Council. Further, YAF is also planning an event this week that focuses on defending the legacy of Jefferson, bringing conservative leaders to Grounds to celebrate this legacy.
Despite this context, University President Jim Ryan tweeted praise and thanks to the group for their annual 9/11 memorial. Chinese Literature Prof. Jack Chen said it best in his reply to President Ryan’s tweet — “You are either being ignorant or cynical with this statement [of praise].” It is impossible to know whether President Ryan and his social media team are a bunch of cynics or if they genuinely are unaware of YAF’s history on Grounds — I’m not sure which is worse. All of this without even mentioning the fact that YAF’s logo for the event was a recreation of 9/11 — even going as far as featuring a plane flying into a building.
The University, like any integritous institution of higher education, must maintain an environment conducive to the free exchange of ideas. Just as with the free exchange of ideas, however, there is a limit. Official University social media accounts, especially a leader as public as Ryan, cannot promote or praise the conservative extremism — which often espouses hatred and promotes violence against marginalized communities — of some student organizations. What would happen if a FMPFL student protester harmed a patient at Charlottesville’s Planned Parenthood? What if yet another YAF doxxing leads to physical violence against social justice activists on Grounds? These are not risks the University should be taking — no matter the PR payoff that comes with a “false balance” mentality.
Noah Strike is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.