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Students Question UVA Administration's Response to Torch-Lit Rally

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Counterprotesters around the statue of Thomas Jefferson as "alt-right" supporters march around the UVA Rotunda (FILE IMAGE) Counterprotesters around the statue of Thomas Jefferson as "alt-right" supporters march around the UVA Rotunda (FILE IMAGE)
Supporters and members of the "alt-right" carrying torches during a march at UVA (FILE IMAGE) Supporters and members of the "alt-right" carrying torches during a march at UVA (FILE IMAGE)
Unite the Right rally organizer Jason Kessler participating in a torch-lit rally at UVA (FILE IMAGE) Unite the Right rally organizer Jason Kessler participating in a torch-lit rally at UVA (FILE IMAGE)
UVA President Teresa Sullivan talking with a student about the university's response to a torch-lit rally (Courtesy Facebook Live) UVA President Teresa Sullivan talking with a student about the university's response to a torch-lit rally (Courtesy Facebook Live)
Counterprotesters at the base of the Thomas Jefferson statue holding a sign that reads, “VA Students Act Against White Supremacy” (FILE IMAGE) Counterprotesters at the base of the Thomas Jefferson statue holding a sign that reads, “VA Students Act Against White Supremacy” (FILE IMAGE)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) -

A student group at the University of Virginia is demanding answers from the university's administration about its response to the torch-lit march through the academical village by “alt-right” supporters.

UVA Students United is joining others to push the university to explain what they see as inaction.

Fourth-year biology student Caroline asked NBC29 not to use her last name out of fear for her safety. She joined her classmates and supporters to link arms around the Thomas Jefferson statue at the UVA Rotunda after learning about the plans for that torch-lit rally.

Several hundred Unite the Right rally supporters gathered with Tiki torches at Nameless Field at UVA Friday, August 11. They then marched up to the UVA Lawn, around the Rotunda, and surrounded counterprotesters at the statue of Jefferson.

Fights broke out between the students and “alt-right” before police officers stepped in.

“At that moment, I just felt abandoned. I felt kind of helpless. It was just a handful of students against hundreds of white supremacists with torches,” Caroline said.

Caroline said she learned of plans for the rally earlier that Friday night. She said frustration and confusion about the university's lack of action to prevent the march and violence led her to confront UVA President Teresa Sullivan on camera.

In a video posted to Facebook Live, the student asked Sullivan how a group of students knew the “alt-right” was coming, yet the university did not:

Sullivan: We didn't know they were coming.
Caroline: I guess I'm just curious how a group of anonymous students knew they were coming.
Sullivan: Did you tell us? Did you tell us they were coming? No, you didn't. Nobody elevated it to us. Don't expect us to be reading the ‘alt-right’ websites. We don't do that. You know, you've got some responsibility here too. Tell us what you know.
Caroline: So we should have brought this information to you?
Sullivan: Anybody who knew could have told us.


She also questioned Sullivan's leadership while students were in danger:

Caroline: Where were you Friday night? And why were you not standing with your students?
Sullivan: Well, I was across the street, trying to get police help.


“I just couldn't believe what I was hearing that as someone who was already taking the step to stand up against these violent people that I also had the responsibility to tell her they were coming. It just made no sense to me,” Caroline told NBC29.

Caroline went on to say, “I was completely taken aback when, instead of offering support, asking me how I was doing, she pointed her finger at me and said you're responsible for not telling me they were coming.

Caroline said she wants to hear a stronger message from the administration: “To not stand up and try to protect Charlottesville from the violence that they brought is disrespectful and shameful.”

She would also like the university to ban white supremacist groups from UVA and revoke diplomas of alumni leaders in the “alt-right” movement: Unite the Right rally organizer Jason Kessler and National Policy Institute President Richard Spencer both graduated from UVA. An online petition is also seeking to have those diplomas revoked.

NBC29 requested an interview with Sullivan or any university administrator, but that was denied. We were told they were too busy with the start of the new school year.

In a message sent to the UVA community Monday, Sullivan said the university is taking immediate actions to enhance safety, including the hiring of more ambassadors for patrols around UVA and a review of policies regarding open flames and public access to open spaces.

08/21/2017 Letter from University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan:

Dear Members of the University Community:

As we continue to reflect on the events of August 11 and 12, my sincere hope is that the vibrant energy that comes with the beginning of a new academic year will help the healing process for our community. The University has welcomed more than 4,000 new students and many new faculty and staff to the Grounds and to Charlottesville. This year’s entering class is among the most diverse and brightest yet, bringing new perspectives and talents to the Grounds. The newest members of the UVA family include first-year students from 47 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, and from 73 foreign countries. I enjoyed meeting our new students and their families at our residence halls and at various welcome events over the weekend.

Many of you have expressed safety concerns in light of the hateful events of August 11 and 12. I have heard your concerns. I want to assure every member of the University community that your safety and well-being remain our top priority. We have already taken several immediate actions to enhance the safety of our learning and living environment. These steps include:

  • Hiring additional personnel within the Ambassadors Program and expanding their presence by adding new patrols on Grounds;
  • Hiring an outside security firm to review the University’s security and safety infrastructure; and
  • An immediate review of existing laws and University policies regarding open flames and the public’s ability to access certain historic and open spaces such as the Lawn and Academical Village.

These initiatives will complement the efforts of the working group led by Dean Risa Goluboff, announced last Friday. We are determined to make whatever changes are necessary to protect our people and our Grounds.

We are reaching out to our students and employees who were injured by white supremacists and others who came to our community intent upon dividing us. University Police are actively investigating several incidents that occurred on the evening of August 11, and the University is aggressively asking for the prosecution of any and all violations of the law.

Thank you for your ongoing support of our University and our values. I ask that we continue to work together as we seek to build and foster a safe, caring, and inclusive community.

Sincerely,
Teresa A. Sullivan
President