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TOLLIVER: Nonviolent resistance is a form of love, so keep it up

Demanding and fighting for change is not an act of contempt rather a sign that we believe the University is capable of so much more

Only a year ago, there was controversy over Lawn room signs which espoused a less than subtle criticism of Thomas Jefferson and the university founded by him.
Only a year ago, there was controversy over Lawn room signs which espoused a less than subtle criticism of Thomas Jefferson and the university founded by him.

The University of Virginia has a complex past that has been covered more times in The Cavalier Daily than anyone can count. Its accomplishments and shortcomings have become so public to the world that it is hard to think of U.Va. and not associate it with radical change and resistance. While we are far from being revolutionary, the University’s students are passionate. They take pride in being Wahoos but moreover, they take pride in advocating for change.

Only a year ago, there was controversy over Lawn room signs which espoused a less than subtle criticism of Thomas Jefferson and the university founded by him. Just a few days ago, on my way to class, I saw a sign that read “F—k UVA [respectfully].” Nevertheless, there seems to be a notion that when one criticizes, it is meant to degrade whatever is criticized. On the contrary, criticism is not always directed to the University but rather the things that degrade it. In this sense, criticism is not always a bad thing. It is taking out the weeds that distract from the flowers, clearing the debris that distracts from the landscape. It is love.

Of course, there is always the question asked both inside and outside the University whenever someone criticizes something — “If you don’t like it, why don’t you leave?” Where, exactly, should we go? There is no utopian college in the clouds because no matter the school — Historically Black Colleges or Universities or Predominantly White Institutions — there will always be aspects that can be changed. Those who ask this simple question mean to confuse, corner and ultimately cut off the person advocating for change. By making this argument, however, they are hurting the University more than the person criticizing it. By suggesting that leaving is the only or best option for someone who does not like certain qualities, policies or aspects of U.Va., it suggests that the University and these practices are inseparable — that there is no cure. This attitude — not the criticism — is disrespectful to the University.

Outside of the University, nonviolent resistance has moved mountains in terms of policy, partnership and promises. The Salt March March 12, 1930, did not include any harmful acts on the part of the protestors, yet it prompted an international outcry against Britain’s treatment of India. In 2003, Liberian women held a sex boycott to demand fewer guns and less violence in Pereira, Colombia. Perhaps the most notable example of nonviolent resistance was the Civil Rights Movement, exemplified by Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington, D.C. Aug. 26, 1963, the Selma to Montgomery marches of 1965 and the Montgomery Bus Boycotts of 1955 through 1956.  None of these acts were done to harm the other side. Gandhi never declared war on Britain and of course, Dr. King did not want to enact revenge on white Americans. It was done because people cared about their countries, communities and cities and wanted them to be better than they were. That is also love.

Do I love Thomas Jefferson? I do not even like him [respectfully]. Do I enjoy being a student at the University? Very much so. That does not mean that the University is perfect or complete nor will I act as if it is such. One should not look at progressiveness as a checklist that only has so many checks to fill before the University is forgiven — now non-white people can enroll, now women can enroll, now statues are removed, now we have an Office of African American Affairs, Minoritity Rights Coalition and so on. The point is not forgiveness, it is forward-thinking. The point is to better the University for past, present and future Wahoos. The point is to make it a great and good school, a display of what the world could be. On that same note, we criticize America not because we want to leave or want to harm it, rather because we want to make it better. Nonviolent resistance, reform and change are not actions of hate and therefore, they should not be treated as such. 

So, embrace reform, encourage questions and alternatives and acknowledge that nonviolent resistance leads to a better future. I do not want to live in a world nor attend a university where people throw away new concepts out of comfort for old ones or abandon acknowledgement for the sake of tranquility. Where would we be without student interruption, student government and student advocacy? I do not even want to know. When University students are not calling for action, when they are not holding the University responsible, when they are not looking for new solutions to old problems — that is when we should worry. Because that means that the students have lost hope that the University can be better. They have lost the will to care, and thus, they have lost their love for the University. 

Shaleah Tolliver is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at opinion@cavalierdaily.com.

The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the author.

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