UVA students demand transparency after noose found on campus

It was 7:02 a.m. on Sept. 8 when Terrell Pittman, a sophomore at the University of Virginia, received an email with the subject line “Community Alert – Hate Crimes.” But even before he checked his inbox that morning, Pittman’s phone was buzzing with messages from classmates: The university’s famous statue of Homer had a noose hanging from its neck.

“My mind was all over the place,” Pittman said. “I couldn’t concentrate, wondering what I should do, what black students should do, what the university would do.”

Some students believe the university did not act as quickly as the incident warranted and has not released details about the incident. So Pittman, who chairs the Black Student Union’s political action committee, and other black students took to the lawn, the centerpiece of the campus, in protest.

Wednesday marked the third day of protests over the campus incident, which has strong memories of the 2017 Unite the Right rally, when white supremacists descended on Charlottesville, carried torches across UVA’s campus and clashed with police. A white supremacist rammed his car into counter-protesters, killing one and injuring dozens of others.

For black students, the release of the noose this month represents the history of lynchings that have killed thousands of black people in the United States.

For Pittman, it brought back memories of a recent incident. On August 19, the building housing the Office of African American Affairs was vandalized. University officials said in a statement that the vandalism was not racially motivated.

Unlike vandalism, the noose incident was immediately classified as a hate crime. Under Virginia law, leaving a noose on public property is a crime.

Cavalier Daily, UVA’s student newspaper, reported that security footage from that evening shows a man wearing a dark jacket and jeans climbing up to the statue and placing a noose around Homer’s neck. Timothy J. Longo, the university’s vice president for safety and security and police chief, said the crime occurred at 11:15 p.m. on Sept. 7 and was reported to campus police at 4:20 a.m. while an officer was patrolling the lawn. .

“My day was put on hold,” Pittman said. “I literally got messages non-stop all day. There was a lot of confusion. And it was hard to go to class and ignore what was being said about this case.

Information withheld

That afternoon, UVA President James E. Ryan sent a university-wide email explaining that the noose was a symbol of violence against black people. “There is simply no place for this type of behavior in our community and we will take every measure to find out who did this and hold them accountable,” he said.

About a week after the hate crime, students began hearing rumors that more items had been left by the noose, including a document with the words “tic-toc” written on it.

But on Sept. 15, university police provided a sharply limited description of other items left in the noose. “There was no substantive note that reflected any threats, motive or information that warranted notifying our community,” said Sgt. Ben Rexrode said, referring to the needs of the investigation.

Pittman said the UVA community was unaware other items had been left behind until students disclosed more information to campus police.

A clear disappointment is the feeling that the university management is not fully transparent and fully proactive in its communication.

But black students spoke up Chronicle that they needed to know what else was found at the scene for their own safety. According to them, a document or object that may not appear to be a threat to others may still be a coded racist threat.

“I started to worry about my safety,” said Julissa Bishop, a third-year student. “I honestly thought, ‘A loop and something else?’ What else could be there?” He began to think about the possibility that the documents might contain additional threats to the black community.

“Every time something happens on campus — a robbery, a shooting or any type of crime — they always send us an email,” Bishop said. “And so I think we have a right to know, but they kept certain things from us.”

“It’s easy to ignore,” he added, “unless you’re the person being targeted by a hate group or individual.”

“Transparency and urgency”

Students were also confused when local news outlets released a photo of the suspect. The university has not released any footage or photos.

“As is customary when investigating potential hate crimes, we are working with local FBI partners to improve the video and develop information related to the incident,” a university spokeswoman said in a written statement.

When the university’s Carter G. Woodson Institute for African American and African Studies and its Office of African American Affairs held a class this month on vandalism and hate crimes against black communities, many black students spoke about the need for transparency. UVA administration. Online, they are using the hashtag #blackoutUVA to draw attention to the issue.

An open letter to the university’s president and administrators released Saturday Cavalier Daily, Black students demanded full transparency of items found with the noose.

“Black students need transparency and urgency. The administration’s silence and inaccuracy in information are clear collusions against the safety and well-being of black students and members of the Charlottesville community,” they wrote. “Apathetic silence in the face of outspoken blackness and the threat of racial violence does not contain the problem of white supremacy. It does not protect Black students—in fact, it actively thwarts Black students’ efforts to mobilize, organize, and hold space for healing.

In addition to transparency, black students are calling for a university-wide town hall to combat hate crimes and increased spending on mental health resources. The students also want the university to recognize demands written by the Black Student Alliance in the 1970s, which have not been addressed to this day.

The open letter ends with the words: “These demands do not justify the committees. There are no working groups. No bureaucracy. Only our voice was met with action. Signed, black U.Va.

Robert Trent Vinson, director of the Woodson Institute, said that “the clear frustration is the sense that the university administration is not fully transparent and fully proactive in its communication. And students somehow learned about the note, but it did not come from an official statement from a university official in the first place. It gave the impression that there is information that is being withheld.

Vinson also said many black students expect black faculty and staff to know more, but they don’t know more than the students. “We’re left with trying to fill a leadership vacuum without the information we need to act in an informed way and be as helpful as possible to our students,” he said.

UVA enrollment is 6 percent black. Sophomore Nevaeh Hodges said even though the community is small, the students come together. “It’s certainly been an inspiring experience to see how quickly we all reached out to each other, mobilized, started strategizing and making plans,” he said. “It’s inspiring to see that I’m part of a community that is standing up for itself and actively fighting for change.”

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