U Student Body President Signs Joint Letter After Charlottesville

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U Student Body President Signs Joint Letter After Charlottesville

ASUU Vice President-elect for University Relations Zoe Kozlowski speaks at the second ASUU debate on Wednesday, March 1, 2017 alongside President-elect Zach Berger and Vice President-elect for Student Relations Saeed Shihab.

ASUU Vice President-elect for University Relations Zoe Kozlowski speaks at the second ASUU debate on Wednesday, March 1, 2017 alongside President-elect Zach Berger and Vice President-elect for Student Relations Saeed Shihab.

Brad Bennion

ASUU Vice President-elect for University Relations Zoe Kozlowski speaks at the second ASUU debate on Wednesday, March 1, 2017 alongside President-elect Zach Berger and Vice President-elect for Student Relations Saeed Shihab.

Brad Bennion

Brad Bennion

ASUU Vice President-elect for University Relations Zoe Kozlowski speaks at the second ASUU debate on Wednesday, March 1, 2017 alongside President-elect Zach Berger and Vice President-elect for Student Relations Saeed Shihab.

By Elise Vandersteen Bailey

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More than 120 student body presidents from universities and colleges across the country, including Associated Students at the University of Utah President Zach Berger, signed a joint statement in response to violence targeting students at the University of Virginia (UVA) in Charlottesville. The letter, drafted by the University of Louisville’s Student Government Association, condemned racism and voiced support for the UVA student body.

A “Unite the Right” rally was held in Charlottesville on Aug. 11 and 12 to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, which had been erected in 1924. The rally attracted white supremacists, white nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the Ku Klux Klan.

On the first day, protesters marched on UVA, chanting phrases like “You will not replace us,” “Jews will not replace us,” “White lives matter” and the Nazi slogan “blood and soil.” The group surrounded a small number of counter-protesters on campus while police looked on. Eventually a fight broke out. Several people on both sides were pepper sprayed or otherwise assaulted before police broke up the fight. The most extreme violence occurred on the second day, when a white nationalist drove into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one and injuring dozens. The incident has been called an act of domestic terrorism by some U.S. officials.

“What affects one of our campuses affects us all,” the joint letter reads. “College campuses are spaces that students should be able to call home, not places of violence, hate, and racism. Students should always feel welcome and safe at our incredible higher education institutions, never having to fear for their personal well-being.”

The student body presidents called on university students to “speak up in the face of injustice, as silence reduces us to bystanders in oppression.” They made clear that they aim not only to support the students at UVA but also to “[advocate] for the victimized and marginalized students on all our campuses.”

They wrote, “We will continue to support students and universities in their peaceful resistance to violence, racism, white supremacy, bigotry, and acts of terrorism on our own campuses and beyond.”

Berger said the letter was written in a Google Doc with multiple student body presidents contributing. It was originally the idea of Clemson University’s student body president, “to show solidarity with UVA and to make clear that we are ardent proponents of student safety who will work actively to improve the state of campus safety throughout the country.”

Berger was part of the “first wave of signatories” after it was released.

He said that he personally hoped he could show that “we strongly denounce hateful, threatening rhetoric, ideology, and actions” in response to both the events in Charlottesville and the racist flyers that were recently posted on the U’s campus.

ASUU called the posters “disturbing and derogatory” in a statement, saying they were “inexcusable and directly violate the most core values of our institution and ASUU.”

For Berger, student body representatives “can’t afford to be silent about issues that so directly impact our students.” He also said that “words aren’t enough in situations like this,” so ASUU is working on ways to respond “more concretely and directly.”

He stressed, “We want all of our students, both at the U and throughout the country, to feel that their campus is a home where they can be free to make friends, have meaningful experiences, grow intellectually, and develop their character.”

@EliseAbril

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