Tuesday morning, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People at U.Va. released a letter concerning my candidacy for Student Council President and work within the Black community. I am extremely hurt that of all the organizations to come out against me, the “NAACP at U.Va.” was the one. I am publicly addressing these concerns because I was not given the respect or opportunity to address or respond to them privately. The “NAACP at U.Va.” is in quotes because it has come to my attention that the individuals who actually authored the statement were the organization’s president and two vice presidents — not the entire executive board. Since the letter’s release, I have received personal statements of regret and support from several NAACP executive board members and do not consider this statement to be speaking on behalf of the organization in its entirety. In this column, I will respond to the letter's contents and call for a retraction.
I have spent countless hours working for Black students at this University — period. I have never agreed with the sentiment that anyone should vote for me “simply because [I am] Black.” This makes no sense, seeing as my opponent is also Black, and I am not a proponent of hollow identity politics.
I agree that Student Council is an institution that has historically perpetuated harm against the Black community at the University and in Charlottesville. That is why I am so adamant about using Student Council to work for Black students, as I have for the past two and a half years. To be clear, I am not supporting rhetoric of needing a seat at the table and I am not a reformist. Rather, I am doing liberatory work by recognizing the unique resources, information and access that Student Council is allowed as an special status organization and by leveraging that power for students like me. I’ve worked hard, but I want to acknowledge that I single-handedly cannot repair the harm Student Council has done in one year of work on the executive board. This is not and has never been possible. I likely share many of the same criticisms of Student Council as you.
The NAACP claimed that I “co-opted” the demand for scholarships for descendants of enslaved laborers, which is blatantly false. After being invited to work on “The Black Student Alliance’s Historic, Yet Unmet, Demands” by the president of the Black Student Alliance, I began strategic planning work in the past year to secure these scholarships as a means to increase Black students at the University. Before including the historic demand for scholarships in my campaign platform, I checked consistently with members of the BSA Executive Board. But above all, it must be said that I myself am a descendant of enslaved people in Virginia and will continue to work for my community. It was completely out of line and offensive for the president and vice presidents of the NAACP at U.Va. to act like I cannot speak on issues that impact me directly. Who else but descendants should call for scholarships for descendants? Why would the NAACP try to gatekeep descendants’ issues from a Black woman who is a descendant herself? In the future, I will be sure to credit the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University, but it is also important to credit the desires and demands of descendants that existed for decades before that University-sanctioned work.
To say that I have “not offered an ounce of support towards programs or policies that have aided in the advancement of Black students specifically” was by far the most hurtful false claim made about me. The short list of things I’ve done for Black students includes —
- Allocated over $50,000 in additional funds to cultural — particularly Black — CIOs
- Recruited the most racially diverse Student Council leadership in history
- Fought for funding for a program to remove police from mental health crises in dorms
- Organized with U.Va. Beyond Policing
- Planned Disorientation, organizing with BSA Political Action Committee
- Helped fund BSA’s Black Ball
- Coordinated several protests
- Secured a $4 million health insurance program for low-income students with Political Latinxs United for Movement and Action in Society
- Served on and empowered BSA to be in charge of the University Police Review Board
I have helped set the agenda to reduce harm to students of color, as well as advocated in every room that I’ve been in with administrators for the past year for Black students to the extent to which administrators have complained that I talk about Black students too much. I have designed a mandatory anti co-opting training for all Student Council membership and actively practice anti co-opting every time I move.
To the subjective opinion that my administrative branch is “unresponsive, disorganized and unhelpful,” I am a volunteer who runs an organization of 300 people trying to problem solve for all 27,000 students at the University. It is difficult to change an entire organization while running it operationally. If any student feels this way, I encourage you to reach out to me with constructive feedback, which I have been open to during my entire tenure. I would like to take any genuine feedback as an opportunity for growth. It should also be said that I’ve had extraordinary personal emergencies in the past year that have needed my time and attention. I don’t owe anyone details, but please keep in mind that I am a person too.
In terms of The Cavalier Daily debate, watch for yourself and you’ll see that I simply never claimed to have increased funding for the Black President’s Council. End of story. However, since we’re talking about funding, I did allocate thousands of dollars to two majority Black organizations that the president of NAACP requested funding for and Student Council, under my leadership and directive, allocated $1,300 to the NAACP at U.Va. for Image Awards.
I want to remind the University community that this is an opposed race — as such, it is critical that you vote. Whereas I have endorsements from The Cavalier Daily, the Muslim Student Association, National Alliance on Mental Illness on Grounds, Indian Student Association, Organization of Young Filipino Americans, Planned Parenthood Generation Action, University Democrats and Young Democratic Socialists of America at U.Va., my opponent secured endorsements from the only other two endorsing organizations — College Republicans and Young Americans for Freedom.
I am sick and tired of students who don’t do the work criticizing the way Black students — especially Black women — move and try to survive at this University. I have made every effort to engage with and rally for Black students in my time here. The Black community here is what keeps me at the University and why I do the work. This is demonstrated in everything I’ve done. I will not stand for this blatantly misrepresentative, irresponsible, inappropriate personal attack and false invalidation of my work.
Ceci Cain is a fourth-year College student and vice-president for administration of Student Council. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.