How students should stand up to racial hate after Charlottesville

As we start classes Monday, media coverage of what happened in Charlottesville this month will likely still be on our minds and even discussed in some courses.

A white nationalist rally in Charlottesville at the University of Virginia erupted in violence, leading to one dead and 19 injured. University President Thomas LeBlanc and Student Association President Peak Sen Chua issued statements condemning the violence, stating students must stand up to such acts of religious and racial hate.

Although these powerful words are a start, the question now remains how students should stand up. There are many different ways students can and should be standing up against incidents like this. Actions we take can range from something as small as speaking up against offensive language in conversations with friends, to calling for the banning of on-campus speakers who have promoted or incited violence.

Actually standing up to hate can start with an action as simple as stopping a friend when they make hateful and objectionable remarks toward a group of people. We shouldn’t be afraid to have confrontational conversations with people we know, rather than silently unfriending them on social media.

When evaluating whether to remove a statue, we must look at historical context and how the person the statue is commemorating contributed to America.

Student organizations can also take a stance. After the events in Charlottesville, the College Republicans should have issued a statement from the start condemning the violence and stating the views of those who marched at the rally in no way aligned with their own, like the College Democrats did on their Facebook page. These organizations can also host events with speakers from both sides of the spectrum. Although this would likely not change anyone’s opinions, it can allow students to try to make sense of different views instead of alienating people with these perspectives.

This incident has sparked a national conversation on campuses across the country. In the aftermath of Charlottesville, there has been national debate over taking down statues of Confederate soldiers like Robert E. Lee — and more recently, statues of George Washington. But students shouldn’t support the removal of statues of Washington. Although it is true that Washington owned slaves, and we can’t deny that fact, he did not fight for the South and accomplished many positive things for our country as the first president. When evaluating whether to remove a statue, we must look at historical context and how the person the statue is commemorating contributed to America. Washington is also our namesake, which makes it even more difficult and unrealistic to consider disassociating from him.

Instead of examining only Washington’s past, we can go further and look into other figures to learn more about GW’s association with slavery and segregation. The Marvin Center, named after Cloyd Heck Marvin, is the place to start. Marvin was University president from 1927 to 1959 and had a mixed legacy. We should consider renaming the Marvin Center if the students and administration support the change. He may have accomplished many feats like increasing school size, enrollment, faculty and endowment during his tenure as president, but he also actively fought against desegregation.

We must draw the line at speakers who have incited violence or encouraged their supporters to incite violence.

The Marvin Center was named after the president in 1971, sparking student protests. The naming of the student center might have been to honor his various accomplishments as University president, but it overlooks his actions to prevent people of color from attending GW. And there shouldn’t be concerns that such a move erases history. Instead, we should see it as an opportunity to rename the Marvin Center to something that represents our University’s current values. In fact, changing the name shows that we’re acknowledging and reflecting on history and trying to create a better legacy going forward.

The recent incident in Charlottesville sparked more controversy beyond just the statues, prompting many universities, like Michigan State University, Louisiana State University and the University of Florida, to reject the appearance of Richard Spencer, a white supremacist who led the rally against the removal of the Confederate statue in Charlottesville.

The University should still allow people of different ideologies to speak on campus, even if a majority of students don’t necessarily agree with their views. But we must draw the line at speakers who have incited violence or encouraged their supporters to incite violence. Such a distinction isn’t limited to far right groups, it also includes violent groups across the spectrum. At the same time, if students – whether supporters or protesters – become violent, they should be held accountable for their actions through appropriate disciplinary action.

Universities that rejected Spencer’s appearance did so on the grounds of safety concerns given that he may incite violence. A university is a place to teach students about all the possible perspectives, but not a place to welcome ideas like annihilating a population. If people just want to spew hate speech, they have the right to do so and no one can stop them. But as a private University, we can and should choose to encourage discussion and debate among groups that don’t actively promote violence.

We cannot erase heinous incidents like what happened this month in Charlottesville – but we can certainly take actions to heal and ensure that nothing like this ever happens again.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Irene Ly and contributing opinions editor Shwetha Srinivasan, based on discussions with managing director Melissa Holzberg, managing editor Tyler Loveless, sports editor Matt Cullen, copy editor Melissa Schapiro and design editor Anna Skillings.

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