I know your time is valuable as midterm exams are occurring, but I respectfully ask you to take a few minutes to read my message that follows.
On Monday, the publication Inside Higher Education ran a story entitled, “Epidemic of Racist Incidents,” noting that such incidents on American college campuses “have multiplied at the very beginning of the academic year.” No university is immune to this ugly development.
I know the University is not an island separate from the ills of the greater society of which we are a part. However, as a place that takes pride in framing itself as a Community of Trust, we can improve. To achieve the ideals we profess to support will take honest introspection and personal action. The recent charrette hosted by the Provost offers a good start. Racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, and homophobic slurs do not originate in a vacuum. They are a product of learned behavior and, unfortunately, ingrained bias against difference. If we are to rid this community of such ugliness, we each must start with an honest look in the mirror.
A critical step to a truly welcoming and inclusive community also requires us to continue applying the Green Dot strategy of being more than a bystander, just as we have worked as a community to confront sexual and gender-based harassment and violence. “Not on Our Grounds” must also apply to observed acts of all types of bias. When we see something, we need to say something. Community values mean nothing if no one is willing to speak up when they are violated. Reports of such incidents, including anonymous reports, may be made using our Just Report It online system, via www.virginia.edu/justreportit/bias. Such reports are shared directly with the Office of the Dean of Students and the Office for Equal Opportunity and Civil Rights.
Confronting and condemning acts of bias isn’t “political correctness” or inconsistent with our cherished Constitutional ideal of freedom of expression. We can and should be a place where even the most controversial issues of the day may be debated with intellectual vigor and passion, and no offense should be taken as a result. However, hurling a racial, ethnic, or homophobic slur at a passing student in the dead of night doesn’t qualify as protected speech. It should be condemned for the targeted discriminatory harassment it is.
The reputation of a University may be the product of many generations of graduates and faculty, but its character is shaped by the students presently in residence: each of you. I have great confidence in your ability to reject ugliness, bias, and hatred. Every student at UVA earned the right to be here and fully deserves their place in the class. It is incumbent upon each of us to make that clear in our daily actions.
A final note: Yesterday, after I had drafted the above message to you, I became aware of a letter posted at various points on Grounds, purporting to be the Z Society’s endorsement of Donald Trump for President. The Z Society has since disavowed the letter, and it clearly originated from another source. The timing of the letter, the messages contained therein, and the use of a quote attributed to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has upset and angered many students and other members of the community, and they are right to use their voices to express these strong feelings. I join them in that sentiment.
In the wake of the events described above, I ask each of us in the UVA community to refocus our attention and energy on the underlying causes of hateful speech. True change requires sustained personal and collective commitment.
Allen W. Groves
University Dean of Students