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President Casteen's Email to All Students, Including an Update on University Responses and Upcoming Events

March 9, 2003

Dear Students:

Just before Spring Break, an assault on a candidate for Student Council president was reported. This crime included a racial element that has led to a joint FBI/U.Va. Police inquiry under the federal law prohibiting hate crimes. This investigation is continuing.

During the break, University officials and others, including students, parents, and police officials, have worked to address immediate concerns about the attack and the circumstances that preceded it. This letter includes information that may be of immediate use to you. Longer-term actions, including redoubled efforts to teach the values of human differences, of mutual respect, and of a community grounded in trust, openness, and inclusiveness will follow.

These initiatives will take time, and they will require both student and University actions. As the final weeks of this semester get under way, I ask each of you to make a personal commitment to become involved. Learn the racial history that makes hate crimes and racial intolerance such serious matters here and in Virginia generally. Engage in dialogue with persons who are different from you, and by that means try to understand our community and yourself in larger contexts. Work toward openness and understanding as the appropriate alternatives to silence and anger in a community of trust. By facing hard issues, working together, and building on the strengths of the community, we can together bring about positive change.

Much has happened since February 26. This is a partial list intended to bring you up to date:

CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION: University Police and the FBI are aggressively investigating the crime. They urge anyone with information to call the University Police tip line at 924-7166 or Crimestoppers at 977-4000, or provide an online tip at http://www.virginia.edu/uvapolice/.

Parenthetically, I feel an obligation to make this observation about this investigation: some here, perhaps more than a few, know who placed the threatening calls that preceded the assault on February 26. These persons and perhaps others know who carried out the attack. Students and alumni rightly boast about the Honor System, and its central place in what many call the community of trust. These threatening telephone calls and this assault challenge both personal freedom (to participate in student self-governance, to move freely and without fear of attack on the Grounds) and the community of trust itself. If you know who made the threats, who carried out the assault, I urge you to give this information to the proper authorities now.

GENERAL SAFETY: Call 911 (9-911 from a University telephone) if you feel threatened or unsafe or if you witness suspicious activity or individuals. Do not walk alone, especially late at night. Be mindful of your surroundings. Not all areas can be brightly illuminated at night. Would-be attackers often choose dark locations. The University Police are here to protect all of us. They are committed to ensuring your safety. Students in University housing should raise concerns about personal safety and security with residence hall staff, who will pass along these reports to the appropriate authorities.

ELECTION RUNOFF: The runoff election for Student Council president was suspended when the assault was reported. Early this week, you will receive an e-mail confirming when and how this runoff will be completed. I expect this runoff to occur this week.

INDEPENDENT REVIEW OF ELECTION PROCEDURES: Student leaders and Patricia Lampkin, the vice president for student affairs, have agreed that an examination of the 2003 election is necessary. Accordingly, a person or persons independent of the election proceedings will examine reported irregularities and propose reforms to improve the process for future Student Council elections.

A NEW WEB SITE offers comprehensive and updated information about diversity initiatives at the University:
http://www.virginia.edu/uvadiversity/. You may want to check this Web site daily because University events responding to the assault and addressing issues of diversity will be posted here. Of special note are the following:

  • A letter from Ms. Lampkin to parents who want information about recent events. The letter is available at: http://www.virginia.edu/uvadiversity/lettertoparents.html
  • Statements from leaders throughout the University community, including one from Dean Ayers. Mr. Ayers' message includes a partial list of College courses that address race, culture, gender, and class. This message and the course listing are available at: http://aands.virginia.edu/x4861.xml
  • A newly written essay on how the University has faced issues of race and diversity, by Paul M. Gaston, professor emeritus of history and a widely recognized expert on race relations in the United States. Mr. Gaston writes: “For much of U.Va.'s history, diversity was a predicament to avoid rather than a goal to embrace. Women, blacks and other minorities were excluded, leaving the University's hallowed tradition of intellectual vigor and ethical conduct available to only a privileged few.” This essay appears at: http://www.virginia.edu/uvadiversity/envisioning_diversity.html

FORUMS FOR DISCUSSION: Various groups are initiating their own programs. These include:

  • The Faculty-Student Mentoring Program of the Office of African-American Affairs – a brown-bag lunch discussion on Wednesday, March 12, from noon-1:30 p.m. in Newcomb Hall, Room 389.
  • Wednesday, March 12, 6:30 p.m. – March Against Racial Hatred, sponsored by Law School's Committee for Progress on Race. Vigil to follow at 8 p.m. at the Rotunda.
  • The Minority Rights Coalition -- several events, including:
  • Monday, March 10, 9 a.m. – mass meeting for change, Rouss Hall.
  • Tuesday, March 11, 11 a.m. – mass meeting for change, Maury 104.
  • Tuesday, March 11, 5 p.m. – mass meeting for change, Gilmer Auditorium.
  • Tuesday, March 11, 7 p.m. – Agenda for Action. Presentations by students addressing history of oppression at the University, the recent hate crime, and what can be done to combat injustice, Gilmer 130.
  • Wednesday, March 12, 2 p.m. – mass meeting for change, Maury 209.
  • Wednesday, March 12, 5 p.m. – faculty/student exchange, location to be determined.
  • Friday, March 14 – forum to reflect on the week's events and to determine future actions, time and location to be determined.

This is a watershed moment for the University community as we face complex issues and seek solutions to them. These issues do not have short-term fixes. We need to work from a common assumption about our community: that there is no place here for intolerance, for bigotry, for hatred of the kind that fuels racism. Because we are a moral community, because we believe in our honor system and the values it teaches, each of us has a personal stake in this effort to understand how we can recapture the vision of justice and fairness and shared responsibility that ought rightly to bind us together. Each can contribute to this week's events. Take part. Speak out. Take on your share of the task of learning from what has happened, setting affirmative directions for the future, and then building that future. Don't let this unique moment in our history pass you by.

Sincerely,

John T. Casteen III
President