My friend from high school, Alexa, is now attending college at the University of Virginia (UVA) in Charlottesville, Virginia. Charlottesville is the site of the Unite the Right rally that took place about two weeks ago.
The far right groups including Neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members were protesting the removal of the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. The protestors turned violent and attacked the counter protestors in acts of terrorism which even resulted in the death of one woman.
UVA is a state run, liberal arts university, and as such, was very strongly against both the protest’s ideals and the violence.
What were your feelings knowing that a week after the protests, you would be heading to UVA to start college?
Well, when I first heard about the news, I was definitely very troubled knowing that I would be walking where these evil people were walking, protesting, and sharing their ideals of hatred. On August 12, when I heard about the violence in downtown Charlottesville, a ten minute walk from where I am sitting right now, I was frightened and started crying. In talking with many of my fellow first year students since being on campus, it seems that many people have shared my feelings.
However, since the University has responded sharing messages from faculty and older students explaining that these radicals came from all over the country and that the University and locals condemn this, I have felt much better. What happened will give this university a very big platform. With myself being against these ideals, I feel empowered to know that this is exactly the place I need to be.
What is the school climate like in the aftermath of the protests?
This issue is definitely at the forefront of everyone’s minds right now. Every talk that we attended during the three day orientation all centered around why this University doesn't believe in the ideals of the Alt Right regardless of the history here. There’s no denying that there is a dark side to the University’s history; in fact, it was built by slaves. However, the University today has come far since its founding.
On my first day of class, my teacher was going through the syllabus and other things, but half way through the class, she took a break from her lecture. She said that she usually tries to avoid expressing her political ideas but, that in this case, she felt she needed to express herself by saying that she stands firmly against what the Alt Right believes in. She took time out of the class to make sure she said what was on her mind, that there was nothing left unsaid and that everyone felt part of a supporting community.
Have there been any activities regarding the protests since you have been on campus?
Yes, a few nights ago the Black Student Alliance and the Multicultural Student Alliance held a rally to stand against the protest that happened the week before. I would say about 500 people from the community and student body gathered and listened to a few speakers. It was extremely moving to say the least. After that, we marched the same path that Unite the Right followed. Overall, it was an amazing experience, and I am extremely glad that I have a school which allows students to organize such events to combat hatred.
You were part of a student group to organize one such event. Tell me about that.
So, the day after the news came out, one of my fellow first years posted an announcement on our Facebook page saying that she was affected by what happened and was looking for other students to come together and make a statement from the class of 2021. I was actually the one who came up with the name Unite the Light. We wanted to have a candlelight vigil a few nights ago, but since the other event had already been planned, we decided to push the event back.
However, this is still significant because it’s something the University doesn't want to push under the rug, but rather talk about for a long time. It was probably better this way so that we could keep the discussion going longer and so we can have a better chance to organize the event now that we are all together on campus.
I seem to remember you mentioning being interviewed by a newspaper. What paper specifically was that, and what types of questions were they asking of you?
I was interviewed by a newspaper called The Mic out of New York City. They didn't end up posting the interview, because we had to move the event as I mentioned. If it does end up being posted, I will let you know. He just let me offer my statement about the event and asked for permission to include it in his article. (Article link to come, once the article is published)
Do you know if there were such extreme acts from the far right before Trump became president, or do you think having him as a president made these people feel more enabled to violence? (A special thanks to my friend Arvid from Germany for submitting this question.)
Absolutely. Trump’s platform emboldens these people. You can see that even with his response to the violence, he is encouraging them. He didn't make a statement for nearly a day. When he did make a statement about two days later, he started answering questions (going against his plan for the press conference) and taking back everything he said. He didn't even call the rioters what they are: domestic terrorists.
Then, he comes back and blames both sides. There are no ‘’two sides to blame’’ here. Yes, there was violence on all sides to condemn, but blaming many sides for what happened is completely unacceptable because it’s obvious what side is in the wrong; the side of hatred, the side of Unite the Right. He continued to mention how he knows fine people on both sides. If you are standing in a crowd shouting ‘’Jews will not replace us,’’ there’s nothing about you that makes you a fine person. Trump definitely emboldens these people and his statements have done nothing to stop them.
School had yet to start when the rioting occurred. Do you think it would have ended differently had there been an extra 21,000 students in town?
There’s no saying how it would have ended. Move in day wasn't until the next week, so, like you said, there weren't many people on the grounds. If it had been a week later when all the students were here, the small crowd gathered around the Jefferson statue would have been much much louder to drown out the voices of the people carrying tiki torches. I can't tell you how I think it would have ended. Violence just creates more violence, so I don’t know.
So now that you’ve been on campus for a week or so, how are you viewing your future in Charlottesville as you start your college career?
I am very optimistic about my future here. I mean it’s an amazing school, I’m in love with this place. It’s not perfect, no place is perfect, but like I said, I now have a voice in the world, because it’s directly affecting me. I would ask that even if you don't go to school here, if you are in any way able to stand up to hatred, you need to do so.
Has the riot had any impact on your intended field of study?
No, not really. I am still pursuing the same political science major with a focus in foreign affairs.
So far, do your classes work with any current issues? (Once again, thanks to Arvid for the submission.)
I have a class that is titled: Immigration and Trump. I’ve only been to a couple classes so far, but I imagine we will be working with a lot of current problems. We also have a club that specifically focuses on helping refugees get an education here. I know a lot of clubs that focus on political issues.
Is there anything I haven’t asked you about that you would like to add?
No, I think I’m good.
Well, a big thanks to Alexa for taking time out of her busy college schedule to talk with me and answer these questions about the events in Charlottesville. Alexa, I wish you the best at college, and continued support and strength in standing up to hatred!
The photo is of the sign Alexa and her friends carried at the counter demonstration a few nights ago.
Yesterday a group of students from my alma mater, the University of Virginia's McIntire School of Commerce, came to visit. They were spending a week in Silicon Valley as part of their spring break.
I've long privately urged McIntire to become more entrepreneur friendly. When I was a student at U.Va. in the late 90's, it was a very unfriendly place for entrepreneurs. It seems that things are finally changing, and the fact that these students were in California on spring break says a lot about their enthusiasm for tech startups. I've also written in the past about how high school students have seemed more receptive and responsive to becoming entrepreneurs than college students. It's almost like if one doesn't get introduced to the hunger to be an entrepreneur at young age, it becomes hard to impossible to stoke it later. But this trip made me feel like there's hope for helping people find a passion for entrepreneurship later in life. No matter what, though, I stressed to the students that came to visit that the passion had to come from within them. The best a school can do is support those that want it badly enough to try.
We spent an hour together, and I shared stories with them about how I paid for college by making UVa-branded Frisbees, and sold a card called the Hoos Savings Club Card. (It was way ahead of it's time -- basically an analog version of a daily deals service like Groupon). Here are some related pics:
I'd go around to shops in the Charlottesville area, get them to agree to provide discounts to students for the school year, print the discounts on the back of the card, and sell the card for $20 to students. For anyone in college today, it's a concept that would work just as well now as it did 15 years ago, and it's a great way to make $20k to $50k while you're in school, if you're willing to have a little bit of hustle.
I think about religion a lot. Usually my thoughts take the form of debates with specific people about their religious thoughts and attitudes. Those debates take place only in my mind. I am one of the most liberal members of my congregation, so there is a lot to debate. It would not be productive to have those debates for real. Neither of us would be spiritually uplifted, and neither of us would convert the other. I have been thinking lately that a weblog might be a good place for me to share my thoughts in a non-confrontational way. If you disagree with me, you can comment or walk away – the choice is yours.
I am a Christian. I try to follow the teachings of Jesus, as I understand them. When I hear other people talk about His teachings, I sometimes think we are following two different people. I follow a man who preached love. Jesus told the rich to give up their wealth; He did not preach the Gospel of Prosperity. Jesus told his followers to practice nonresistance; He did not preach the conquest of His enemies. Jesus told his followers to love their neighbors; He did not preach hatred for those that were different. Jesus made it clear that it is not our place to judge others. We are to love like He loved.
I am not perfect, and I think that is okay. I strive to do what is right, and I consistently fail. That just means that I am human, not divine. I believe that we will be judged based on our desires and efforts, not our accomplishments. I also believe that we will be judged as individuals. I will be judged based on my situation, which may be very different from my neighbor's situation. Maybe that is why we are not to judge each other; we do not truly know each other's situations.
My views of sin differ greatly from those of the conservative majority with whom I worship, particularly in the areas of sex and violence. I would rather my daughters see two men kiss than two men kill each other. I disagree with those that will play violent video games but are greatly offended that a movie contains a scene with a topless woman. I am not advocating promiscuity, though many of my fellow worshippers would disagree. I think that sexual activity is a sacred event and should be treated as such. I do not think that fornication is worse than violence, though I am often reminded on Sunday mornings that sexual immorality is second only to murder. Those who say that are wrong. I know that is a bold statement.
The prevalence of violence in my society bothers me a great deal. Even in my congregation, violence is treated lightly, even glorified. There is an elderly woman that carries a gun on Sunday mornings. Those that know about it think it is funny. There is currently a debate in my county about zoning ordinances. One of the congregational leaders was lamenting that it was a crime to kill those that favored the ordinances. He said that his only consolation was that he knew they would burn during the Second Coming.