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A few months ago in my hometown of Oakton, a speeding car crashed into a group of high school-aged students walking home. Two girls were killed and another was critically injured. In the aftermath of this tragedy, our community came together to donate to the grieving family and plan a course of action moving forward. The sad truth, however, is that the accident could likely have been foreseen — we shouldn’t have to limit ourselves to reactionary measures. The road where the crash took place was in the top five percent for pedestrian safety risk in the state, and since 2017, it has been the site of 114 crashes. Charlottesville has similar scary figures — as of 2018, the City had the highest rate of pedestrian injuries in all of Virginia. With the current shortage of school bus drivers and thousands of Charlottesville children walking to school each day, I worry Charlottesville will only become more dangerous for pedestrians. While the City should be implementing infrastructural solutions, Charlottesville drivers should also step up and do everything they can to ensure pedestrian safety.
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I was at a Welcome Back Cookout this weekend when I first saw the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People at U.Va. post about the vandalism of the Office of African American Affairs. Quite frankly, my first reaction was horror. Then, admittedly, a bit of relief that the vandalism was a few broken windows, rather than the racist graffiti that I nervously anticipated. While the post outlines OAAA’s crucial role at the University throughout its history, I would like to take the opportunity to go a bit more in depth about its services. Particularly as first-year and transfer students move to Grounds and find their place here, I urge the University to send a communication to University students — in addition to its regular vandalism update — asserting the importance of OAAA to the University and the Black community. Incoming Black students deserve to know that they belong here and that organizations who exist to support them are valued on Grounds.
Black Americans have always known the history of racism in the police force all too well. Black Lives Matter project founders Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi began the project in 2013 in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer, George Zimmerman. Still, the fact remains that Black Lives Matter had not yet become mainstream in 2017, meaning white Americans often turned a blind eye to disproportionate police murders of Black Americans. This common paradox — Black Americans’ acute awareness of a problem that white Americans chose to sweep under the rug — was a crucial tension during August 2017 and applies to policing throughout that summer. With the added knowledge we now have since Black Lives Matter has become mainstream, it is necessary to take a more critical look into policing in the summer of 2017. Thankfully, a multitude of information is available about the behavior of the police and the City of Charlottesville leading up to and during the various white supremacist gatherings that summer due to the nearly 200-page report compiled by attorney and former University counsel Tim Heaphy. Analyzing the report’s content through the lens provided by Black Lives Matter reveals police were insufficiently prepared and ignored historical context — to the detriment of Charlottesville residents.
For over half a century, the Black Student Alliance has called on the University administration to take steps towards racial equality. However, the University has prioritized optics over substantive change to benefit the lives of its Black students, leaving many of BSA’s current and historic demands unmet. Enough is enough. Black people and groups at the University have been rallying and pushing for change for decades. I condemn the University’s inaction and wholeheartedly praise the resiliency of Black people and groups at the University.
Black students often face a number of hurdles after enrolling at the University. Not the least of which is the odd — and often inexplicable — behavior of their white peers. Below is a list of some examples. After going through the first list, please see the second one for important contextualization, resources and friendly advice.
We are all excited to move forward to a time without extreme COVID-19 precautions. However, we must be careful to balance our eagerness with caution. This year the University lessened many of its previous restrictions, including mandatory prevalence testing. This decision, in particular, is unsafe. For our safety, the University should reinstitute mandatory COVID-19 testing for all students, faculty members and staff.
Recently, the University Police Department took action to create a more visible presence in the neighborhoods surrounding Grounds. For the most part, the catalyst for this response was rising concerns about violence on Grounds and in the surrounding Charlottesville community. The efforts seem to be genuine attempts for the police force to protect and connect with the community. Nevertheless, their intentions are misguided — the University should not increase police presence on Grounds nor in the surrounding community.
The United States hastily withdrew its troops from Afghanistan, marking the end of nearly two decades of American involvement in the country. Inevitably, this pattern of support reminds me of the Vietnam War — which was once the longest war in American history before being eclipsed by the one in Afghanistan. I worry that history will repeat itself, treating Afghanistan veterans with a lack of respect. Regardless of one's views of the conflict with Afghanistan, returning soldiers deserve respect and support from the American government and its citizens.
Recently, there has been a surge of awareness about political issues — police brutality, racist memorials and gender inequalities in particular — that were previously undiscussed on major platforms. Conversations already happening on a smaller scale were brought to the forefront of American politics. Indeed, the attention brought to these issues allowed progress to be made. However, our job as activists is not done.
"Montero (Call Me by Your Name)" by Lil Nas X has faced immense criticism since its release. The song lyrics are structured as a conversation between Lil Nas and a potential romantic partner. He expresses his frustration with homophobia and the heteronormativity pushed by the Church. The music video features explicitly biblical scenes — but changes the script. The scene opens in the Garden of Eden — notably, Eve is absent — and Lil Nas is seduced by the classic biblical snake. For this crime, he stands in front of a jury. He escapes his sentence by riding a stripper pole down to Hell, where he gives the devil a lap dance, kills him and takes control of Hell. Coupled with this song, Lil Nas released a pair of Nike Air Max 97s with a drop of blood in the sole of the shoe. In response to his song and shoe, satanic panic flooded the internet — the song was reduced to the singular scene of Lil Nas dancing on the devil. Conservatives who interpreted his song and shoes as an attack on Christian morals denounced Lil Nas. The backlash against the song is unnecessarily extreme and speaks to the current culture that encourages instant reactions rather than a holistic response.
The University recently announced its intentions for a default in-person semester this fall. There are many factors to consider. For one, COVID-19 cases continue to be a prominent threat on Grounds. The active cases from January and early February eclipsed those from the Fall semester. Simply put, the University has not found a reliable method to keep COVID-19 cases under control. Meanwhile throughout the country, there are still millions of vaccines to be distributed and new variants of coronavirus to study. The University should not default to a fully in-person Fall semester.
This semester, I was moved into quarantine housing at the Charlottesville Home2 Suites. While isolation, boredom and decreased freedom result in unique responses for every individual, my quarantine experience was relatively pleasant. Daily online conversations with friends and family helped me stave off feelings of isolation. Additionally, the structure of my classes and extracurricular activities also allowed me to maintain my schedule. I found solace in learning as a source of freedom. Based on my experience, I am content with the University’s resources for quarantined students.
This semester is sure to be rife with COVID-19 related stressors and pressures. Respect for our own health and the health of others mandates strict adherence to University COVID-19 guidelines. The limitations from the fall semester still exist — students must expect that they will miss out on experiences that they or other University students have enjoyed in past years. In light of the social oriented sacrifices students are making, professors should be empathetic toward student stress levels. Despite less formal breaks, professors must understand that students still need time to relax. One such opportunity that will require support from students and professors is the newly changed spring break schedule.
The coronavirus vaccine rollout has begun nationwide, with one percent of the total United States population fully vaccinated. Uneasiness regarding the vaccine’s safety is unfounded. However, in order to encourage increased acceptance of the vaccine, we must respond to the many nuanced concerns by respectfully sharing facts.
I am biracial. My dad is Black and my mom is white. Biracial people in America occupy complex and dynamic roles that often result in struggles with their racial identity. The theory of mixed privilege posits that biracial people are more easily accepted into popular American culture — thus they should serve in a supportive position for darker-skinned Americans. But biracial people should not be limited to a supporting role. They experience their own unique and nuanced turmoil.
COVID-19 has turned resident advisors into frontline workers — they live in hazardous environments with increased responsibilities and must be compensated accordingly. Even in non-pandemic times, RAs aren’t remunerated adequately for the extensive beneficial services they provide to first-years. As a first-year living in the dorms, I can personally attest to their substantial responsibilities. This year, I have knocked on my RA’s door at 5 a.m. for help, asked her for advice about my coronavirus-related concerns and participated in several small events she has hosted to decrease our stress levels — and I’m only one of many students that she is expected to support.
The University has a responsibility to educate its students both inside and outside of the classroom. The environment around Grounds is laced with implicit suggestions that change the way students see the world. That being said, my observation of the dining hall staff is that they are overwhelmingly Black. In contrast, I do not have a single Black professor. Meanwhile, I haven’t seen more than a handful of white dining staff — but I do have many white professors. The profuse presence of Black staff in low-paying positions combined with a lack of Black professors is alarming. Although the University claims to value racial diversity, its hiring practices don’t appear to reflect this value. Students are left to grapple with the conflicting concepts of attested declarations that Blackness is valued at the University and an environment that suggests the opposite.