On August 12, in the college town of Charlottesville, Va., hundreds of “Unite the Right” supporters gathered from around the country to protest the removal of a Confederate statue celebrating Gen. Robert E. Lee. As the day wore on, accounts chronicling the violence between demonstrators and counter-protesters began to circulate, including the death of car-ramming victim Heather Heyer.
The night prior, demonstrators marched through the University of Virginia calling for the government to rescind the the order which made the monument unlawful. Protesters wielded torches as they yelled phrases such as “You’re wearing the hood wrong,” a reference to the Ku Klux Klan.
President Hanbury, a Virginia native, offered ‘A Word of Solidarity’ to the NSU population in a memorandum distributed through email. Hanbury said that as the semester was preparing to begin, he wanted to assure the diverse student population that their safety on NSU’s campuses and online platforms took precedence. Additionally, he provided words of clarity to those who were concerned about the atmosphere on campus.
“Our Constitution guarantees the freedom of speech to all, but our laws also protect individuals and groups who are affected when words become harmful actions … I condemn those actions in the strongest sense possible,” said Hanbury. “NSU’s core values of diversity, community, and integrity will not be shaken. We remain dedicated to creating an environment of inclusion and diversity, and promoting meaningful and constructive dialogue, not violence and inflammatory rhetoric.”
Students voiced their disapproval of the protests and supported those harmed during the events. One student was NSU Black Student Union president and political science major Kadeem Hall, who collaborated with other delegates of South Florida-based BSUs to release a statement.
In the appeal, the representatives expressed their collective sympathies, reproved the actions of the ‘Alt-Right’ and recognized the bravery of those who opposed the protesters. Moreover, the group encouraged the public to exercise their right to vote and fight for what was right.
“[We are] one nation, under God, indivisible, who strive for liberty and justice for all. So, when we discuss one NSU, one unified nation that goes against the systematic oppressions that face so many different people, I feel that as a university, we should be looking to push change. We should innovate our messages and delve into scholarly conversations about what the issues are,” said Hall.
In an interview with NBC 6, Charles Zelden, Ph.D., a noted historian and NSU professor of History and Political Science, illustrated why so many people had taken offense to the removal of Lee’s statue.
“They’re fighting for the symbol but it’s really about what the symbol symbolizes,” said Zelden. “This is not a new fight; we have to fight in every generation. The biggest difference here is that Robert E. Lee and the other generals of the confederacy fought to break apart the United States; they fought against freedom.”
Hall said that he feels what happened in Virginia has implications for the U.S. as a whole.
“I feel like once you learn what the true issue is, then we can understand how we can respond to that,” said Hall “Because if there’s no response to that then I feel that a message of solidarity isn’t really of solidarity.”