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On Monday, the Virginia State Senate killed a bill in the Courts of Justice Committee that would have outlawed paramilitary groups, such as those at the Aug. 12 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. The bill — SB 987 — was sponsored by Sen. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) and Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring. A priority for the Charlottesville City Council, the bill would have made the assembly with the intent to intimidate by “drilling, parading, or marching with any firearm or explosive or incendiary device or any components or combination thereof” a Class 5 felony, carrying with it a fine of up to $2,500 and a maximum jail sentence of up to 10 years. SB 987 failed on a close eight to seven vote, with only Sen. Glen Sturtevant (R-Chesterfield) voting as the only Republican in support of the bill. This decision to kill SB 987 missed an opportunity to address public safety concerns in light of recent events. The General Assembly should correct its misstep by reintroducing similar legislation.
During their public input session Friday, the Advisory Committee on the Future of the Historic Landscape welcomed feedback and suggestions from members of the University community. Approximately 50 people came together to discuss potential actions the University could take to memorialize its storied history. The advisory committee is an offshoot of the Deans Working Group, which is the coalition of prominent community members formed by President Teresa Sullivan in the wake of the events of Aug. 11 and 12. Tasked with responding in both the short term and long term, the working group advises the University administration on potential actions to strengthen and examine our community. Within six months of creation, the working group has contributed to the bolstering of the University’s open flame policy, expanded Ambassador coverage and designated the Lawn a “facility.” While these accomplishments speak to the potential of the working group, their establishment of the advisory committee only detracts from the group’s ability to succeed.
Recently, the #MeToo movement has captivated the world, with women from diverse backgrounds and professions coming forward with stories of harassment and assault. This movement has shown the world that far too many women have been forced to endure unwanted sexual advances, not only professionally, but in their everyday lives. This trend is especially true at colleges where 23 percent of women and 11 percent of all students experience rape or sexual assault through physical force. Last week, the First Lady of New Jersey, Tammy Murphy, an alumni of the University and a member of the Board of Visitors, joined the movement when she shared her experience of being sexually assaulted during her time as a student. College women’s increased risk of sexual assault and Murphy’s story confirm what many University students and faculty members already know — that sexual assault is all around us and students must contribute to the progress that has yet to be made.
During the 2017 Virginia general election cycle, the data of 40,000 students from Virginia public universities was given to political campaigns around Virginia. These campaigns proceeded to text students, imploring them to vote in the 2017 elections. While public efforts to encourage civic engagement can be beneficial, these campaigns’ personal contact with students violated their privacy. The origin of the violation, however, lies not with the political campaigns, but in the public nature of student contact information.
Last December, the University unveiled plans to construct a softball stadium for the women’s varsity softball team at Lambeth Field. Following the announcement, students and local residents voiced their concerns about being excluded by the University from the planning process. Students and local residents are particularly concerned by the potential impacts of noise, light and community space. In response, the University has begun to take the proper measures needed to ensure these concerns are considered before moving forward with its plans to disrupt an established community.
With classes wrapping up and students gearing up for final examinations, the University community is bidding farewell to a bittersweet semester. Throughout the last four months, University students and faculty have enjoyed moments of hope and witnessed terrible tragedy. We celebrated memorable events such as the Bicentennial Launch, and suffered from the re-emergence of divisive and hateful rhetoric by white supremacists. This reemergence, however, has been met with strong opposition and objection by our community — a response which has been not only impactful, but unifying. This has been a heartening beacon of hope in a troubling time, and it is inspiring to see the community's continued commitment to progress.
The University recently completed construction on the Remembrance Garden outside Newcomb Hall, intended to be a place of quiet reflection and contemplation honoring the lives of students who have passed away. The idea has reportedly been circulating for over a decade, but the murder of second-year College student Hannah Graham in 2014 provided the needed impetus to move forward with the project. The courtyard has always been intended as a place for remembrance and reflection, featuring a plaque commemorating the lives of fallen students and a bench dedicated to the late Capt. Humayun Khan, who lost his life serving in Iraq in 2004. Continuing this theme, the recent round of construction culminated most notably in the erection of a blackboard “Remembrance Wall,” intended for chalk messages of reflection and healing. Unfortunately, not long after its unveiling, it was quickly defiled with all sorts of inappropriate and vulgar messages. This reflects extraordinarily poorly on the student body, and our community needs to be far more mindful of our actions.
Over the weekend, a Facebook page dedicated to an organization called the “UVA White Student Union” was created and describes itself as “UVA’s first and only White Student Union.” The page also claims that its creation was inspired by the “desecration of European-American monuments.” This founding claim refers to the controversy surrounding the planned removal of the Robert E. Lee statue, the protests of Thomas Jefferson statues and other related events. Although Charlottesville has been center-stage in rising racial tensions, the University community has repeatedly opposed white supremacist efforts. The administration must continue this opposition by condemning the UVA White Student Union for both its stated values and wrongful alignment with the University.
One of the primary concerns for students leading into Virginia’s recent gubernatorial election was the governor’s power to appoint members to the University’s Board of Visitors. Given that the Board of Visitors has extraordinary influence over the direction of the University, it is no wonder it captures student attention. As a public institution, there is a measure of intuition behind the governor’s power of appointment over the board, seeing as the University receives a significant amount of public funding. However, there is something inherently problematic behind giving the governor such broad powers of appointment.
Last week, The Cavalier Daily reported on data from the University which showed an increase of 38 percent in first-year minority enrollment since 2012. The data show that the number of students who identify as African-American has increased from 7.1 percent in 2012 to 9.1 percent in 2017. This is excellent news, seeing as the 20 percent of African-American Virginians are underrepresented at the University. Unfortunately, this progress is threatened by the events of Aug. 11 and 12, when white supremacists descended on Grounds and on Charlottesville. Recently, The Daily Progress reported that the Darden School of Business experienced a drop in applications, which the administration attributed to the negative attention surrounding these white supremacist rallies. The concerns of minority applicants regarding the atmosphere and safety of the University are understandable, given the traumatic and recurring nature of these white supremacist demonstrations. In light of this new information, the University must double down and actively pursue policies to increase minority applicants and enrollment, taking the context of the summer into consideration.
Last month, Virginia Tech and Radford University provided the personal information of about 40,000 students to progressive political group NextGen Virginia. The political group requested to obtain cellphone numbers of current students, which is public information, through Freedom of Information Act requests sent to every public college and university in Virginia. NextGen provided these records to Democratic political campaigns across the state, who then used the information to send mass texts to college students inquiring about their voter registration. This recent stunt by NextGen offers our University an opportunity to remind students that their public information is available to anyone who asks and the repercussions of that availability.
Even though it’s an off year, a general election is nevertheless upon us, with offices ranging from members of the Charlottesville City Council to the governor of Virginia on the ballot. By now, students who are registered to vote in Virginia should know their polling location and the options available to them regarding transportation. A recent Cavalier Daily poll found that 78 percent of students claim to be registered to vote in Virginia, yet over half of students are unfamiliar with local politics. The University administration does not make significant efforts to encourage student political engagement, leaving it to students to encourage each other’s awareness of and involvement in what transpires in both the city and the state. As members of the Charlottesville community, students need to be continuously informed about local issues and political figures.
The Daily Progress Editorial Board condemned Ralph Northam’s gubernatorial campaign on Friday for circulating a mailer which juxtaposes Ed Gillespie, his opponent, with President Donald Trump and an image of the white supremacist rally on Aug. 11. In the pursuit of “fairness,” the Progress Editorial Board pointed out that it had similarly condemned the Gillespie campaign a month ago, for putting out a mailer that nonsensically linked Northam to illegal immigration and gang violence. The editorial accuses both campaigns of “deliberately stirring up our deepest and most vulnerable fears in a bid for political gain” and concludes by casting “a pox on both their houses.” What is deeply troubling about this editorial is not that it condemns Northam, but that it bends over backwards to equate the strategy of the two campaigns, putting forth a depiction of the race in which both candidates are equally guilty of political sin. While Northam’s mailer may have played fast and loose with standards of political decency, Gillespie’s campaign is uniquely toxic, and saying that both are equally deserving of scorn is shortsighted and irresponsible.
The University administration recently decided to require that all first-year students complete an implicit bias module starting next Fall. The module, piloted by students living in Dillard residential dorms, was originally intended to be completed before their arrival on-Grounds. However, the administration later determined to partner with Housing and Residence Life for students to take the test on-Grounds. This affords new students the opportunity to discuss their results with their Resident Advisors. Providing the opportunity for students to discuss their results with their Resident Advisor is important, because these conversations about race and bias are desperately needed. Given the nature of the topic, discussions surrounding implicit bias can be uncomfortable, and Resident Advisors need to have the appropriate training to effectively moderate and answer any questions students may have.
University communications regarding public safety are used to notify students and staff of relevant safety issues which could pose a threat to University students and staff. These alerts are often for issues in the general vicinity of Grounds but can also reference events outside of Grounds if the danger to the University community is deemed high enough. The recent white supremacist events have challenged the scope of the alert protocol. The recurring presence of white supremacists in Charlottesville has had a profound impact on members of the University community, and the current alert system has not adequately addressed that impact. To protect students, the University should better use the alert system to inform the community about potential dangers.
Converge U.Va. is a new student-led initiative on Grounds which seeks to alleviate political tensions among students at the University. During a time of ever-increasing political polarization, Converge U.Va. will expand political discussion by giving students the opportunity to hear from across the aisle. While both the University and Charlottesville have taken multiple forms of action — from demonstrations to policy changes — pure conversation is often overlooked. With the Converge U.Va. initiative, students can explore an additional avenue for change, while potentially finding common ground in an opposing political viewpoint.
Following the terrifying events of Aug. 11 and 12 and the subsequent Concert for Charlottesville, many members of the University community are asking themselves how they can maintain a sense of unity with other Charlottesville residents. While this is not an easy task, it is worth trying to achieve. An essential factor that plays a role in connecting with life beyond Grounds is understanding the socioeconomic conditions which afflict the city. To many University students, Charlottesville is a city steeped in history, with great scenery and incomparable food; what they don’t know is that income inequality in Charlottesville is larger than any other city in Virginia.
The University kicked off its two-year-long Bicentennial Celebration with an event on Friday. Held on the Lawn, the event featured many inspiring performances and speeches which addressed our institution’s complex history throughout its 200-year existence. Students, prominent alumni, faculty and state officials came on stage to help tell the University’s story, along with a projection which wove the performances together. In this event there were several moving moments, one especially powerful one was when the descendants of enslaved laborers told stories of the horrors their ancestors endured as they built this University. This moment demonstrates to our community how far we have come as an institution that no longer idealizes its past, but engages in an important self-examination which allows us to put that history into perspective. While this acknowledgement is promising, it signifies something greater — that efforts to rectify historic wrongs will continue.
On Sept. 22, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights scrapped a 2011 "Dear Colleague" letter, which spelled out to colleges their obligation to effectively address reports of sexual violence. The letter, which emphasized that the federal government would aggressively police that responsibility, signaled a new era of strict enforcement throughout U.S. college campuses. The department also axed a 2014 question-and-answer document which outlined how colleges should bring their policies into compliance with Title IX. These two documents encouraged universities to take sexual assault more seriously, and their retraction presents our University an opportunity to emphasize its commitment to protecting the progress of the last several years.
Hurricane Maria, a powerful Category 4 hurricane with winds over 150 mph, made direct landfall on the island of Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, decimating most of its infrastructure and leaving around 3.5 million U.S. citizens on the brink of a humanitarian crisis. Today, millions of Puerto Ricans are still living in primitive conditions without power or enough food or water. A week after Hurricane Maria’s devastating impact, the University’s leadership has yet to express its support towards the Puerto Rican community on Grounds.