By Alex Fine, Rachel Danegger, Maya Gutman and Hana Zherka
August 12, 2017: the image of Thomas Jefferson’s University of Virginia changed forever. The far right white supremacist protest that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia left three dead and 34 injured. Seemingly the climax of the hostility that has been brewing for the past five years, the institution is under fire once again.
Beginning in September 2014 with the disappearance and murder of sophomore Hannah Graham, no one could have predicted the series of tragedies in the months to come. Two months after Hannah Graham’s murder, Rolling Stone published a story about the alleged gang rape of a girl at a party hosted by UVA’s Phi Kappa Psi fraternity; later invalidated, the story deepened the scar on the image of UVA. The following spring, a 20-year-old African-American honor student, Martese Johnson was harassed at a bar near school. Questioning his identity and pinning him to the ground, two Alcoholic Beverage Control agents seemed to singlehandedly intensify the already present race tensions on the Charlottesville campus.
Based on these events alone, one might assume that the University is at risk for social conflict and violence. But when talking to current students as well as graduates in and from the B-CC community, they all see the University of Virginia in a far different light. Daniel Crystal, a sophomore at UVA, holds true to the fact that UVA has a “very accepting community and student body,” and that the events that took place before the school year began “do not reflect the students at UVA.” That said, the violence have not gone unheard, as “the protests and violence have been discussed frequently in several of [his] courses.” Life at Mr. Jefferson’s University has persisted, “but there is a strong condemnation for the violence that occurred.”
Tattler Editor-in-Chief, Matt Cohen, and staff writer Camilo Montoya conducted interviews with five University of Virginia alumni following this “climax” of race tensions in Charlottesville this summer. Among the interviewees were current B-CC teachers, Mr. Singer, Ms. Frank, and principal, Dr. Jones. As a University of Virginia alum, Singer has nothing but fond memories during his time at the university. During his years at UVA, Singer believed he thrived because the University offered “great opportunities that shaped who [he is] today.” UVA, he says, “embodies its values and principles of honor, loyalty and the pursuit of excellence,” not only in written words, but in all of it’s students and staff. The location of UVA in the academic hub of Charlottesville, Virginia is a “place of a variety of different backgrounds… where people come together to make [UVA] a special place.” For Mr. Singer, the vast majority of his memories there were positive.
So, when he heard about the events of the Charlottesville riots, Singer’s first instinct was to defend the students at the University–his loyalty to the school prevailing. Singer spoke about the deep sadness he felt regarding the victims of the hate demonstration and how “[such events] are an unfortunate reality of the charged political time we live in.”
Despite of what became a national headline, Mr. Singer does not believe the white supremacist rallies represent any of the values held by UVA as a university. He retains that “it’s not Charlottesville making this happen… these events could have happened anywhere.”
The University of Virginia also sports alumni within the administration, as it was the home of B-CC principal Dr. Jones for five years. Dr. Jones believes that the racism portrayed in the rally should not reflect the Univeristy at all, but instead those of outside hate groups: “people who attend the school value diversity, are thoughtful and caring…;hate that came into the city doesn’t reflect what generally happens in Charlottesville.” But as an alum, Jones empathizes with the students at UVA. She understands their fears and tells us that “if [she were] still attending [the University] I would feel afraid to leave my dorm. Her worries stretch beyond student life, and as a parent “[she] would feel uneasy about sending [her] child there.” Despite having fond memories at the University, Dr. Jones does recognize the dangers surrounding it as of late. The stain left on the campus by the hate marches has reached far and wide to homes all over America, and even the hearts of nostalgic alumni. Although the campus has worked hard to eliminate the fear from their student’s daily lives, it is hard to protect students from the nationwide epidemic that is racism. Affecting people of all backgrounds nationwide, the issue is being brought into the spotlight once again.
Another proud University of Virginia alum, teacher, Ms. Frank, feels similarly about the University and its string of turmoil, heartbroken to see her university portrayed in such a negative light. Although devastated, Ms. Frank believes that “it’s important to hear what’s going on in college campuses” and student’s lives. Vocalizing her belief that the white supremacist rally, as well as preceding events, reopened room for dialogue regarding a subject that has taken the nation by storm for decades: “racism is still alive, antisemitism is still alive, homophobia is still alive—Charlottesville is Bethesda,” but the close quarters may bring it closer to home for some.
It’s naive to think that this is a one time occurrence in a single college town. With the new presidential administration, hate campaigns have begun to stain the US map and it’s still in the beginning stages. A bubble burst that day if the riot that exposed the underlying hatred which still exists in our country. But make no mistake: it still boils under the surface of Bethesda and B-CC today.