UVA pres­i­dent: Protest sul­lies ‘sa­cred’ ground

USA TODAY US Edition - - NEWS - John Ba­con

Univer­sity of Vir­ginia stu­dents protest­ing a month af­ter vi­o­lence erupted at a white na­tion­al­ist rally in Char­lottesville des­e­crated “sa­cred” ground when they cov­ered a statue of Thomas Jef­fer­son with a black tarp, school Pres­i­dent Teresa Sul­li­van said.

Dozens of stu­dents car­ry­ing signs read­ing “End Hate Now,” “Black Lives Mat­ter” and “TJ was a racist and rapist” ral­lied Tues­day out­side the Ro­tunda, a univer­sity build­ing in­spired by Rome’s Pan­theon and de­signed by Jef­fer­son, the univer­sity’s founder. The group chanted, “No Trump, no KKK, no racist UVA.”

“As part of this demon­stra­tion, they shrouded the Jef­fer­son statue, des­e­crat­ing ground that many of us con­sider sa­cred,” Sul­li­van said in an email to alumni. “I strongly dis­agree with the pro­test­ers’ de­ci­sion to cover the Jef­fer­son statue.”

Sul­li­van down­played the im­pact of Tues­day’s rally, say­ing it drew only about 40 pro­test­ers, not the 100 in some news re­ports. She said one per­son at the rally was ar­rested for pub­lic in­tox­i­ca­tion, and the tarp was gone when univer­sity work­ers went to re­move it.

The tar­get of the protest was last month’s “Unite the Right” rally led by white na­tion­al­ists who op­posed a de­ci­sion by the city of Char­lottesville to re­move a statue of Con­fed­er­ate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a park.

Sul­li­van said ac­tivism at her univer­sity “should not be a sur­prise to any of us,” but she pre­ferred “the process of dis­cus­sion and de­bate, and the de­bate is hap­pen­ing here at UVA with a wide va­ri­ety of guest speak­ers, pan­els and other op­por­tu­ni­ties to look at un- der­ly­ing is­sues.”

In an­other email to the “univer­sity com­mu­nity,” Sul­li­van gave a bit more ground to the pro­test­ers.

“I also rec­og­nize the rights of those present at the protest to ex­press their emo­tions and opin­ions re­gard­ing the re­cent hor­rific events that oc­curred on our Grounds and in Char­lottesville,” she said. “Our com­mu­nity con­tin­ues to heal, and we must re­main re­spect­ful of one an­other if sub­stan­tive progress can be made on ad­dress­ing the many chal­lenges and op­por­tu­ni­ties that we all face.”

She de­fended Jef­fer­son as a cham­pion of hu­man lib­er­ties, call­ing his own­er­ship of slaves an “ap­par­ent con­tra­dic­tion.” She ac­knowl­edged that slaves played a ma­jor role in the school’s found­ing.

“En­slaved peo­ple not only built its build­ings, but also served in a wide va­ri­ety of ca­pac­i­ties for UVA’s first 50 years of ex­is­tence,” she wrote. “Af­ter gain­ing free­dom, African Amer­i­cans con­tin­ued to work for the univer­sity, but they were not al­lowed to en­roll as stu­dents un­til the mid-20th cen­tury.”

Sul­li­van said a memo­rial to en­slaved la­bor­ers was ap­proved in June and is an ex­am­ple of how the univer­sity rec­on­ciles its past with as­pi­ra­tions for a more in­clu­sive, di­verse en­vi­ron­ment.

ZACK WAJSGRAS, AP

Pro­test­ers cover a statue of Thomas Jef­fer­son with a black tarp Tues­day at the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia.

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