Just after midnight on Saturday, November 4, an outside group came onto our campus wearing masks and carrying tiki torches. This may not mean much at first glance, but you may recall that one of the first incidents in Charlottesville was a group of white supremacists carrying torches. So this recent event did not sit well with me.
Thankfully, the group of demonstrators on our campus was broken up very quickly. UT police officers arrived at the scene within minutes of the report, told the group they needed to leave, and they did. Shortly after, President Fenves released a statement that basically said while we’re committed to free speech, we don’t support hate.
This isn’t the first hate group-related incident we’ve had on our campus. I’m sure most of you are aware of racist flyers that have been posted around campus over the years. Some have targeted Muslims. Some have targeted people from China. Some have targeted African-Americans.
In response to an increase in non-UT affiliates coming on campus, the university has changed how our buildings are accessed at night and by whom. Building managers and police can remove people from our buildings if they are not part of our community. In the near future, the university will be revising our campus violence policy and reviewing guidelines on who can become a registered group on campus.
But it’s not just up to the university administration. This is a community problem and only the whole community is going to help solve it. So this is my call to action for you:
- When you hear someone make statements that you think are discriminatory, let them know you or others find those words hurtful or insulting. By staying silent, you are implicitly saying what they said is OK. Speak out if you think what they said is offensive and try to engage them in a respectful conversation. If you’re not sure how to start that conversation, contact EAP or the Dispute Resolution Office for ideas. Or, take a Bystander Intervention class from BeVocal.
- If you see something racist, like flyers or graffiti, around campus, take a picture of it and report it to the Campus Climate Response Team (CCRT). This team tracks bias incidents on campus. It’s important to not post the photo you took on social media because you will be giving free advertising to the group.
- Talk to a co-worker or write them a letter of support. Ask them what they need from you. Maybe it’s something as simple as walking with them to their car after work.
- Ask the UTPD Crime Prevention Unit to give a presentation at your next staff meeting. Knowing how to stop crime before it starts can be one of the best plans of action.
- Learn about a group that’s different from you by checking out books from our libraries, listening to podcasts, or taking workshops like Disability 101 or LGBTQA+ from DDCE. You can also learn from groups that call for more free speech on campus or support things that you don’t agree with.
There are other ideas on the “8 Things you can do to fight hate” handout shown below. Although this is geared toward staff, these are practical suggestions for any faculty member or student as well. Please read through them and see which ones ring true for you.
This call to action is not about shutting down people who have opinions different from yours… but it is about maintaining a professional and safe work environment for everyone. It’s about engaging people in a respectful dialogue when you can. It’s about telling people that we care about what happens on our campus and to our colleagues.
As the BeSafe campaign says, “When we look out for each other, our whole community is safer.” Respectful conversations with people can and will help change the culture.