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Message regarding our community of trust

Dear members of the University community:

Living in a community of trust involves values and principles that extend beyond the refusal to lie, cheat, or steal. A community of trust also requires that we act with respect toward everyone in our community, regardless of personal attributes such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status.

Belonging to a community of trust also means taking steps to protect the community. This includes not only taking care of our friends, but also watching out for people we do not know when we witness words or actions that are harmful or in violation of the principles of respect.

The recent bias-motivated assault against a student based on his perceived sexual orientation, which occurred on the evening of Nov. 15 (and was reported to the community through a Nov. 17 email from UVa Police Chief Michael Gibson), is deeply disturbing.

If you witness an action like this, I encourage you to be more than a bystander; be a protector of our community's values. Recognize that something is wrong and, within the limits of your own safety, speak up or get help. In some cases, you may only need to say something to turn a situation around.

Words, as well as actions, are important. For example, the "not gay" chant during the singing of "The Good Old Song" at football games is deeply disturbing. Several years ago, students made an effort to stop this from occurring, but it has returned. This is disrespectful and harmful to gay students. Furthermore, it is denigrating to the entire community, and it is within our students' power to end it.

Deciding whether to act is a personal decision, especially if your own safety may be at risk, but reacting and responding are part of protecting our community. You can make a difference simply by calling 911 for help or by notifying the Dean of Students (through the "Just Report It" system at www.virginia.edu/justreportit). One person can make a difference. Together, many people can bring about community-wide change.

The Get Grounded program, which was initiated by students in 2010 to build a stronger community and address the pitfalls of so-called "bystander behavior," remains open to all students, faculty, and staff. The program, which includes brief training and an awareness campaign, is being reinvigorated through the undergraduate Class Councils. Undergraduate students will be hearing more from Class Council representatives in the near future. Graduate students may contact Aaron Laushway, associate dean of students, for more information at laushway@virginia.edu. Faculty and staff may contact Student Affairs for more information by emailing vpsa@virginia.edu.

Creating a respectful, collegial workplace for our employees is also important. The following website describes the defining principles of a respectful workplace and guidelines for behavior: http://www.hr.virginia.edu/other-hr-services/respectatuva/respectful-workplace-guidelines/.

I encourage everyone to contribute to the effort of building and preserving the community of trust that defines life and learning at UVa.

Teresa Sullivan

President Sullivan approved distribution of this message.