When Can We Stop Calling UVA a Good School?

Photo courtesy of University Communications at UVA

This week marks two years since the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA. On the evening of August 12, 2017 — just hours after a peaceful counter-protester was killed at a Nazi rally in Charlottesville, and less than a full day since Tiki-torch wielding Nazis invaded the University of Virginia campus — the magazine Real Simple posted an article on its Facebook page highlighting the best college in every state. As a resident of Virginia, I know that one of my state’s schools, UVA, ranks number one on several lists. I clicked on the link, curious to see if Real Simple had the gall to post an article praising UVA in light of the day’s events. I scrolled down the alphabetical listing of states to Virginia and found UVA listed as the top school.

I commented on Real Simple’s post: “Wow, on a day when white supremacists are marching on the UVA campus, you’re publishing an article ranking the school number one in the state? Bad timing, Real Simple.”

My comment was met with backlash. “Today’s events have nothing to do with the University’s overall ranking,” one person said. Another commenter accused me of “search[ing] for reasons to be upset and offended.” I felt inherently disappointed that Nazis marching on campus had no effect on a school’s ranking and that people seemed more offended by me suggesting it should than by the actual march.

I kept wondering how Nazis got into the UVA campus in the first place. Knowing that a white supremacist rally was scheduled in Charlottesville, wouldn’t UVA have extra security on campus? And wouldn’t these security officers guard the campus entrance particularly carefully the night before the rally to ensure no angry mobs trespassed on school grounds? Apparently not. Pictures flooded the internet of white supremacists traipsing across campus with lighted torches — which are in essence weapons — without a security officer in sight. Only after UVA students were physically attacked did security intervene.

Hate crimes and violence on campus should absolutely influence a school’s ranking. One respondent to my Facebook comment challenged me with the question, “Why? It’s not the school’s fault they marched there, is it?” Actually, yes, it is. First, this incident represents a failure of the school’s security force to protect its students. Second, and more importantly, UVA is not a credulous institution that happened to be arbitrarily selected for a Nazi march. Rather, the Nazis chose to march at UVA because they knew they have a long history of acceptance there.

The school once had its own chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, and in 1929 the Virginia Knights of the Ku Klux Klan donated $1,000 (approximately $14,500 today) to the school’s gymnasium fund, according to archive records on the UVA website. Memorial Gymnasium still stands on the UVA campus. Next to this building is where the alt-right gathered and started marching the night before the rally. Richard Spencer and Jason Kessler both graduated from UVA in 2001 and 2009 respectively.

The white supremacist rally in Charlottesville supposedly began as a protest against the removal of a Confederate statue. Later that same week, four Confederate statues were removed in Baltimore, a city which, unlike Charlottesville, is mostly African-American. There were no alt-right protests on college campuses in Baltimore.

Only six percent of undergraduate students at UVA are African-American, according to the school’s website. The campus, affectionately referred to as the Grounds by the UVA community, was designed by Thomas Jefferson and is “spectacularly beautiful,” as the article Real Simple posted pointed out. It was also built by slaves, which the article neglected to mention. Unlike other schools built by slaves, such as Georgetown University, UVA has not offered preferential admission status or other reparations to slave descendants.

A public statement released by UVA President Teresa Sullivan following the rally neglected to acknowledge white supremacy as the reason for the protest and failed to make any mention of race.

It’s time to stop calling UVA a good school. Yes, it has competitive admission standards and a basketball team that won the NCAA Tournament Championship this year, but it also has a history of white supremacy (as well as several Title IX violations). If we continue to call the school number one and fail to acknowledge its role in cultivating a culture conducive to white supremacy, we’re only furthering the school’s ability to do so perpetually.

A native of the Washington, DC area, Aliza Epstein is a non-profit manager by day and an aspiring writer by night.