White supremacist groups have been marching down in Charlottesville, Virginia, at the University of Virginia (article).

Does this also in some ways reflect on the university itself for allowing the march to happen (see the disturbing photos in the linked NY Times article) and for all the subsequent violence to occur?

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    – ff524
    Commented Aug 14, 2017 at 14:29
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    This question is not about academia. The question could just as easily be about a demonstration at a grocery store, a gas station, or any other place, and it would be the exact same question.
    – Aaron
    Commented Aug 14, 2017 at 16:32
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    @Aaron The distinguishing factor is that UVA is a public university, and thus the first amendment is binding on it. A private university has more leeway in deciding what sort of demonstrations can happen on its campus. Commented Aug 14, 2017 at 16:46

5 Answers 5


White supremacists marching at the University of Virginia – does this reflect the university’s attitude?

No, absolutely not. Here's the President of UVA's statement from before the earlier rally (there were two) as published on the university's official website:

University of Virginia President Teresa A. Sullivan on Tuesday issued the following message to the University community regarding a scheduled Ku Klux Klan rally on July 8 in Charlottesville:

To the University community:

Members of the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, based in North Carolina, plan to hold a rally in Charlottesville on July 8. The stated purpose of their rally is to protest the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue in Emancipation Park, formerly Lee Park.

The KKK represents ideologies of hatred and exclusion that run directly counter to the principles of mutual respect, diversity, and inclusion that we espouse and uphold at our University. The KKK has a long history of racial violence and murder. As a unified community, we condemn the detestable beliefs of the KKK as well as the group’s message of intolerance and hate.

We also support the First Amendment and the principle of free speech, and we know that the members of this group have the right to assemble and speak. We abhor their beliefs, yet we recognize their right to express those beliefs in a public forum, and the City of Charlottesville plans to protect their right to do so.

I urge UVA community members to avoid the rally and avoid confrontation on July 8. To listen and respond to these outsiders would only call more attention to their viewpoint and create the publicity that they crave. Instead, I encourage you to support the alternative events that Charlottesville leaders are planning. These tentatively include a program at the Jefferson School African-American Center and a community picnic at Ix Art Park. Details are available here. The Albemarle-Charlottesville chapter of the NAACP and other organizations are planning additional events for the community.

There is irony in the timing of the KKK rally, which falls only four days after Independence Day, when we celebrate our nation’s hard-won freedom and our founding belief that all people are created equal and entitled to unalienable human rights. As a community, let’s remain confident that the voice of justice and equality will drown out the voice of hatred in the end.

Teresa A. Sullivan President

-"UVA President Issues Statement Regarding Planned KKK Rally", UVAToday (2017-06-27)

To summarize that, they allowed the rally on free speech grounds, but explicitly condemned its message. They're a public university in a country where free speech is a central right, so it seems unlikely that they could've blocked it.

For a more recent posting, here's a Q&A with the President of UVA in the aftermath of the second rally, issued yesterday: "In Aftermath of Violence, Sullivan Reflects on Challenging Weekend", UVAToday (2017-08-13). It's too long to quote in full here, but:

Q. Traumatic and emotional events have occurred in the last 48 hours. People have been killed and many in our University community remain frightened, angry, confused, frustrated. What is on your mind right now?

A. The first thing I have to say is how indescribably sad it is that three lives were cut short. There were 35 or more people who were injured. And that was needless. The University is about freedom of speech, but free speech is not the same as violence. We strongly condemn this kind of abhorrent and intimidating behavior whose purpose is only to create fear and cause divisions in the community.


Q. You often talk about how the messages of the alt-right and others who were affiliated with this rally and demonstrations do not reflect the values that the University embraces. Simply, what are those core values?

A. I’ve just spoken at length on diversity. And another way we talk about that is inclusion. For a lot of the University’s history, there were specific demographic groups who were excluded. Well, we’re not about that. We’re seeking to include them. We believe in mutual respect. And that means that you can discuss a variety of issues with one another, including with disagreements, but you still respect the other person. Disagreement is not the same as saying, ‘I disagree with you, so, therefore, you must die.’ That’s some of what we were hearing yesterday. That’s a really objectionable message.

-"In Aftermath of Violence, Sullivan Reflects on Challenging Weekend", UVAToday (2017-08-13)

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    Very good. Thanks for the quote. I tried feebly to find it, but had not succeeded. Commented Aug 14, 2017 at 22:48

The march, and even more so the violence, were strongly condemned by UVA. Here are some statements from the President of the university to that effect.

The mayor of Charlottesville condemned the march in even stronger terms, calling it “a cowardly parade of hatred, bigotry, racism, and intolerance.” Note that the protestors came from out of town; they chose Charlottesville because it was in the process of removing and renaming monuments to the city's white supremacist past.

The US has a very strong tradition of free speech; generally speaking, if some people want to march, it is difficult or impossible to stop them, even if you oppose the cause for which they stand.

In my opinion the violence reflects badly on the US as a whole, but not on Charlottesville or UVA in particular. Whether or not things get worse, no one can say. I certainly hope not.

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    – ff524
    Commented Aug 15, 2017 at 5:57

I know almost nothing about academia but as someone who is familiar with the area, I think we need to set a few things straight. There are some implications in the question that suggest basic misunderstanding of the situation.

The white supremacists were, from all accounts I have seen, primarily or wholly from outside the area. The gathering was declared unlawful by local police in accordance with State law during the event. The governor and the local government have no qualms about condemning the 'unite the right' protesters and white supremacists in general. Charlottesville is considered a progressive town. Something like 80% of the votes went for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Charlottesville is less 200km from the nation's capital. Describing it as 'down south' seems odd to me. UVA is located in Charlottesville but the protests had nothing to do with UVA directly. You could argue that the liberal influence of the university and it's dominance over the city lead to decision to remove the Lee statue and rename Lee park.

In particular, I think it's important to note that the man charged with murder and potentially federal civil rights charges is from Ohio. It's not clear whether you are from the US but let's be quite clear, Ohio is not the south. The reason this happened there is not because the town condones this. It's quite the opposite. It was chosen as a place for white nationalists to push back against liberalism because the city is moving forward with a plan to remove symbols of bigotry from a public park.

One of the things that caught my eye/ear about this incident is that the 'unite the right' crowd had been harassing church-goers. It's a pretty clear sign that they were not local. Messing with people going to church, regardless of the person's color, is inconceivable in small-town Virginia. It's this kind of thing that led to the decline of the KKK in the south many decades ago.

Will these people return to Charlottesville again? I guess it's possible but I think it's more likely they will want to make their presence known in other locations. Another key point here is that this is not the middle of the 20th century. There has been a very significant migration of people to the 'sun belt' over the last 5 decades or so. The US is fairly homogenized on a national level. North-South doesn't matter that much anymore. It's rural vs. urban and Charlottesville, like many college towns in the US, is like an urban colony.

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    "The gathering was unlawful." Objectively wrong as a matter of fact. Commented Aug 14, 2017 at 16:44
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    The original demonstration had a permit, even though it took intervention by a federal court. The "unlawful assembly" didn't happen until after the counter-demonstrators arrived, the police neglected to separate the parties, and violence ensued. Your answer overtly states that the demonstration as such was unlawful. Commented Aug 14, 2017 at 16:51
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    @chrylis I've clarified the answer but I contend your assertion that it was objectively wrong is objectively wrong.
    – JimmyJames
    Commented Aug 14, 2017 at 16:52
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    @JimmyJames Your clarified version still reads like the police declared the march unlawful before the event. Adding "in accordance with state law" doesn't actually clarify things. In fact it wasn't the march itself that was declared unlawful, it was the confluence of the marchers and the counter-demonstrators. Commented Aug 16, 2017 at 9:43

My answer may come out to be unpopular, but it might help the person asking the question so I'll throw it out there. Then I'll add a story at the end.

You can look at it from two perspectives, a noble one and a rewarding one.

The noble perspective is to believe that university has nothing to do with it. Apply, join, fight for the right thing, maybe change the people out there, maybe they will change you, maybe get beaten up in the process. At the end you will get to say that at least you tried and did the "right thing".

The rewarding perspective is to cross that place out and apply to universities in areas without such problems. Avoid the problem, minimize risk, stay safe, and focus on studies. That's very rewarding for you but that's not very noble because if everyone else does that, then University of Virginia will quickly become a dismal place.


Now if you feel like reading a bit, here is my story. A few years ago I was working on my PhD and worked at a university in southeastern Ukraine. It was the year 2014. Unfortunately for me that is when Russia decided to spark a civil war in eastern Ukraine. I found myself working in a pro-Ukrainian, pro-European, pro-democracy (all the good things) university, which was located in marginally pro-Russian town. The work environment became unbearable quickly. Most students and faculty were 'on the good side'. But many, who were local, shared political views of general population in that area. They had a different idea of what 'the good side' is. Conversations about political topics became taboo because they would end in confrontations. Everyone quickly caught on who is on which side and avoided conversations with each other altogether. Stink eye became a routine greeting. There were no riots and no one got killed, but it was pretty grim. Eventually, people started giving up and just leaving. Luckily, that's when I got my PhD and had no reason to stay either. I chose the rewarding path and don't regret it for a moment. Sometimes I check the Facebook of my colleagues who stayed there to fight for 'the right thing'. They don't look too happy.

This week marked 70th anniversary of India-Pakistan partition which segregated Muslims and Hindus of the former British colony into two countries. I read with horror about what happened to those who stayed and tried to work it out in spite of segregation that was happening. Historically, choosing the rewarding path is selfish, but the best decision from an individualistic perspective. Yet, for some, being a hero is priceless. Make sure you think it through.

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    I think that might be the longest TLDR I've ever read!
    – Phlyk
    Commented Aug 14, 2017 at 14:40
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    -1: The question is whether and to what extent UVA was involved and/or culpable in the recent events in Charlottesville. Your answer contains no information about this whatsoever. It also presents a false dichotomy: the third option -- and the one taken by most UVA faculty, staff, administration and students -- is to be affiliated by UVA but not directly involved in the counter-protesting. To imply that attending UVA places one at a greater risk of getting "maybe beaten up" seems...well, unwarranted, certainly. Commented Aug 14, 2017 at 14:54
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    Also: "The rewarding perspective is to cross that place out and apply to universities in areas without such problems." In that case, the "place" to avoid is the United States. Which is, I am very sorry to say, a tenable position to take, but it seems overly facile to label it as "the rewarding" one: the United States is a land of many opportunities and also some serious problems. Commented Aug 14, 2017 at 14:57
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    As others have pointed out, the people did not necessarily belong to the university, they were just looking for a place to protest where they would get noticed. Whatever university you go to there will be people with left wing, right wing and extremist ideas. There might be less in one place or another, but they will exist somewhere. Also, if people took your second stance, the white supremesists (or any similar group) could systematically go around every university protesting outside in an attempt to stop people attending the universities of their choosing.
    – Pharap
    Commented Aug 14, 2017 at 18:08
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    -1. UVA's been heavily against the white supremacists, who essentially invaded Charlottesville. The mayor of Charlottesville even got on TV and told the white supremacists to go away; that they're not wanted here. Despite this, this answer still suggests penalizing the university for being attacked. If applied generally, this tactic would mean that white supremacists could threaten universities and towns for concessions, ultimately giving them a say in how both academia and towns operate lest they become the next target.
    – Nat
    Commented Aug 14, 2017 at 22:19

There are many things to consider:

  1. If the university is a place where free speech is a right, then it must have been an unpredictable confusion between 'what is free speech' and what is not, and I think violence and hate are just the opposite of freedom.
  2. You need to check if the university 'permitted' what happened, or if what happened was something they were not aware of, i.e., they did not give permission. However, they need to address the issue and take the stand against such things, otherwise, it indicates that they support such and such behaviors.
  3. You can email the press department at the university or any particular institute asking what are their official position about the issue if you cannot find it on their page first.
  4. I think it is unlikely that a university would defend such demonstration of hate, but there may be someone with power over there that thinks differently, what is another matter.
  5. Lastly, you need to make sure the university will support you and the students, regardless of their background. Any other attitude from the university's side would only indicate to you that you should pursue your scholarly dreams elsewhere.
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    Minor-ish nitpick with point one. If you are not free to hate then you are not free. In the US we have freedom of speech which necessitates the freedom of thought.
    – Matt
    Commented Aug 14, 2017 at 15:48
  • @Matt one is free to hate, but one must not be free if they use their hate as violence. Hate is a problem for free speech itself if it generates violence. A better exposition of this can be found in Plato's Republic.
    – Kasper L
    Commented Aug 14, 2017 at 16:09

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