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Date: November 22, 2002
To: Members of the University Community
Re: Building a Welcoming Community

The University of Virginia takes great pride in the diversity of its student body. At the same time, we recognize that racial tolerance and mutual respect do not necessarily have long histories here. By law, African-American students were excluded from the University until 1950. They were admitted only after Federal courts overturned the section of the Code of Virginia that had previously excluded them.

When the first few African-American students arrived on the Grounds, they were not welcomed with open arms. It was not easy for them to come here or for their families to send them, but many people -- students, parents, community members, faculty, administrators, and alumni -- have worked hard to change this. By almost any standard, their accomplishments merit praise.

Whatever its origins, whether they lie in thoughtlessness or hostility or some other motive, the fraternity party episode reported this week has the potential to undermine work done and progress made during last five decades. Sad to say, this is not an utterly isolated incident. African-American students and many of us who care deeply about their well-being and about equity are painfully aware that similar incidents have occurred, and more frequently than anyone likes. Efforts to make this university an authentic cross-section of what we are as a country and progress made toward this goal are too important to be cast aside by the careless acts of a few.

This incident underscores fundamental obligations we face as members of the University community – students, faculty, administration, and staff. Human dignity, decency, mutual respect, and understandings informed by genuine knowledge of history are related concepts within an institution dedicated to the unlimited freedom of the human mind. These issues must belong to all of us, not just to the students directly affected. Together, we must understand the nation's, Virginia's, and indeed the University's own origins and history, and we must work to build and sustain a climate that is welcoming to all members of the University family. I have expressed to our African-American student leaders my own intention to work toward these ends, and I ask all members of the University community to join us.

Background: Earlier this week, the University of Virginia learned of the existence of photos depicting several students dressed in blackface. These photos had been taken at a Halloween party sponsored by a social fraternity. The national organizations associated with both fraternities immediately initiated investigations and suspended these chapters pending investigative findings. One chapter remains on suspension. The Inter-Fraternity and Inter-Sorority Councils also are investigating the incident. At the request of the national fraternities, the photos have been removed from the web site on which they were posted. Vice President for Student Affairs Patricia Lampkin addressed the ramifications of this incident in an open letter to the University community that appeared in Wednesday's Cavalier Daily.

November 22, 2002