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BLACK STUDENTS: An Open Letter from Black U.Va.

We are deserving of genuine comfort and safety

<p>We, the Black students of the University of Virginia, do not trust you.</p>

We, the Black students of the University of Virginia, do not trust you.

To University President Jim Ryan, the Board of Visitors, the University Police Department and University administration,

We, the Black students of the University of Virginia, do not trust you. This University continues to struggle to address its historical engagement in racism and discrimination. In spite of this, we continue to strive for academic excellence while dealing with attacks on our physical persons. The University administration not only fails to keep us safe, but also actively impedes our ability to take measures to protect ourselves by withholding crucial information from our community.

On Sept. 8, at 7:05 a.m., the University community received an email entitled “Community Alert — Hate Crime.” This crime was reported to University Police at 4:20 on Sept. 8. According to Timothy Longo, vice president for security and safety and chief of police, it took place at 11:15 p.m. the prior evening. Recently, we have learned that there were multiple documents left alongside the noose at the crime scene. Allegations have spread among our community that one note left reads “tick tock.” This spelling is unclear and we have consistently been denied further information. 

Whether labeled as a hate crime or a threat, we are terrified of both. Both constitute acts of intentional white supremacist aggression against Black people. Black students need transparency and urgency. The silence and inaccuracy of information from the administration are explicit acts of collusion against the safety and well-being of Black students and Charlottesville community members. Apathetic silence in the face of explicit anti-Blackness and the threat of racialized violence does not contain the problem of white supremacy. It does not protect Black students — in fact, it actively frustrates Black student efforts to mobilize, organize and hold space for healing.

Ryan wrote that “we must be a community that is diverse, inclusive and equitable.” How are the Black students who attend the University included in this equitable community? How can we claim to have a multifaceted and diverse community without uplifting  the students of color that make that possible? We continuously face microaggressions from our white counterparts at all levels of the University. Nothing is commendable about being the third best public university when this illusion of success is established in the reality of Black subjugation. The peak 12 percent Black enrollment rate has continued to decline since the 1990s. In order to reflect a representative body of the state of Virginia, the University should boast a Black student body of at least 20 percent. The disparate amount of Black students yielded into the University continues to compound the racial inequities that are foundational to this institution. Why do we as a community purport to value Honor but allow our appointed leaders to abandon integrity?  

We are entitled to take up this space. We are deserving of genuine comfort and safety. We, the Black Student Body, demand — 

  1. Full transparency regarding the letters released in connection with the noose on the Homer statue. Black students, families and community members are entitled to the information of this ongoing investigation. Transparency includes frequent and detailed updates about this investigation and a statement ensuring our physical safety at the University. To further uphold the University’s own Community of Trust, we expect this information by Sept. 24. 
  2. A University-wide town hall — a public forum with the attendance of, but not limited to, Ryan, Student Affairs staff, the University Police Department, deans of each department and representatives of the Board of Visitors. We demand we be heard in this town hall no later than Nov. 23, 2022.
  3. A significant financial contribution from Ryan’s Virginia Fund and or other available funds to help remedy the emotional toll that campus racism has on the Black students of U.Va. This includes, but is not limited to, greater access to mental health and therapy resources, and a plan to recruit and retain more Black mental health professionals. A portion of this fund should likewise be allocated to the creation of a Black central space in Newcomb.  
  4. All University schools and departments identify and address the demands of Black students within their specific institutions. Having heard grievances expressed by Black femmes and non-male students in the Schools of Engineering and Applied Sciences and School of Nursing, we demand the department heads of these schools specify their Black students’ needs and lay out action plans to address those needs by Dec. 1.
  5. A written commitment by the Board of Visitors and President Ryan to honoring the demands of the Black Student Alliance and Black CIOs since 1972. 

These demands warrant no committees. No task-forces. No bureaucracy. Only our voices met with action.

Signed,

Black U.Va. 

Correction: A previous version of this column misstated that the hate crime was reported to the University Police Department at 11:15 p.m. The article has been corrected to clarify that the crime was reported at 4:20 a.m., but took place at 11:15 p.m.

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