The disturbing events in Charlottesville this past weekend have had a profound impact on many of us as we watched white supremist, anti-Semitic, and other racist groups march openly on the campus of the University of Virginia. While our awareness of these groups may have previously been limited, assuming they were largely confined to the dark corners of the internet, we now have no choice but to acknowledge that these groups are thriving and represent a significant threat to our core values.
One of the more troubling dimensions of the events in Charlottesville was that the participants appeared to be largely young, white men of traditional college age. A number were, in fact, identified as students at our universities. Any notion that those holding racists views in our country were confined to an aging population that would soon be replaced by a more tolerant and accepting younger generation were dashed by the blatant expression of hatred displayed by these young people.
It is clear that these groups espousing racist, white supremist, and anti-Semitic views see our campuses as fertile ground for their messages of intolerance. While the vast majority of us watched the events in Charlottesville with dismay, the organizers of the event and other hate groups seem to have been emboldened by the experience and have announced their intentions to hold marches and rallies at our colleges and universities in the coming months.
This cannot go unchallenged. We cannot be silent in the face of racist, xenophobic, sexist, anti-Semitic and homophobic acts/statements. Our silence is not only complicit, it's an endorsement. These groups confuse our commitment to free expression for acceptance of their beliefs. They see our lack of explicit condemnation as affirmation that their views deserve equal consideration. And when we do speak out against their appearances on our campuses they often turn the tables and accuse us of hypocrisy and intolerance.
Our campuses have historically served as powerful voices in confronting societal injustices. From the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee organizing Freedom Rides that highlighted racial injustice in the 1960s to students and staff in the 1980s compelling their institutions to withdraw their investments in companies that provided the financial underpinnings for the Apartheid regime in South Africa, colleges and universities have stood on the right "side" of social justice. To allow groups to use our campuses to foment hate stands in the face of everything we have achieved.
What can we do to confront these groups? First, speak out. Engage with members of your campus who are working to create welcoming and inclusive communities. Listen to the concerns of students and "actively promote the expansion of ideas, perspectives, and understanding that comes from a diverse and inclusive community" as described in our AACRAO Core Competency on Diversity and Inclusion.
As Maya Angelou eloquently stated, "Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future, and renders the present inaccessible."
Jim Bouse, President
Paul Kyle, Past President
Tina Faulkner, President Elect
Tiffany Robinson, Vice President for Access and Equity
Mike Reilly, Executive Director