Students Question UVA Administration's Response to Torch-Lit Rally
A student group at the University of Virginia is demanding answers from the administration about its response to the torch-lit march through grounds by “alt-right” supporters.
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.