The University of Virginia’s College at Wise held a vigil Aug. 14 in the Chapel of All Faiths to remember the three people who lost their lives in events surrounding a white supremacy rally in Charlottesville.
Approximately 80 area community members and college students, faculty and staff came to Monday’s vigil.
“Cavaliers respect Cavaliers,” Associate Vice Chancellor for Compliance Jewell Worley said in opening remarks. “Our hearts and prayers go out to members of our Cavalier community at UVA and the city of Charlottesville as they continue to deal with the aftermath of the violence which occurred in their city and on their grounds this past weekend”.
Worley reminded the audience of the lives lost during the rally. Heather Heyer, 32, of Charlottesville died after a car crashed into protesters Saturday. State Police Lieutenant H. Jay Cullen and Trooper Berke M.M. Bates died in a helicopter crash later that day. The two were keeping watch over the events in Charlottesville at the time.
“I invite you to take our time together to reflect on sacrifice and loss, on help and healing on support and resilience and on the power of community of respect,” Worley said.
UVa-Wise Student Government Association Junior Senator Sydney Steinburg reminded the vigil audience of the solidarity between the UVA and UVa-Wise campuses.
“We are deeply saddened by the events that have taken place the past weekend, and would like to send our condolences to the family and friends of those killed or injured by senseless acts of violence,” Steinburg said. “It is hard to conceptualize that such extreme forms of racism and hate still exist in our county.”
I encourage each and every one of you to fight ignorance and hate by accepting those of different backgrounds, religions and ways of life,” Steinburg said.
“We must face the hatred and violence that has taken place this weekend,” said Beth Tipton, the Wesley Foundation’s minister on campus. “The University of Virginia, including the campus at Wise, is a place of tolerance and inclusion. It is a place where diversity is celebrated and racism is taken seriously.”
Tipton recalled occasions on the UVa-Wise campus when certain faculty and students were not treated with the respect they should have been given. She encouraged students to remember such incidents and turn away from such behavior.
“We must face also the challenge to be reflective about our own lives,” Tipton said. “When is it that I have been complacent through my actions, inaction or silence?”
Marcia Mitchell, director of the College’s TRIO Student Support Services, spoke about the challenges she faces as a woman of color in today’s world.
“I am saddened, but I must say however, I’m not surprised,” said Mitchell. “Racism is not dead, but alive.”
Mitchell recalled an instance during a diversity meeting when someone leaned over to her and said, “Does racism really still exist?”
“Trying to hide my surprise, I kindly responded by saying yes, it does,” said Mitchell.
Vigil attendees should remember that even if they do not experience racism firsthand, it is still present in our society, Mitchell said.
“You know that racism exists when you walk into the room and the entire room stares at you because you’re the only chocolate chip in the cookie, when someone refers to you or your race as ‘you people’, when the white father is uncomfortable with letting his daughter date your black son or when African American men are pulled over by the police because they ‘look’ like a suspect in a crime,” Mitchell said of events she has experienced. “We’ve come a long way as a society, but we aren’t there yet.”
UVa-Wise Chancellor Donna Henry was emotional as she said how heartbroken she was for the Charlottesville community after this weekend’s events.
“I wondered how I could come to work on Monday morning,” Henry told the audience. “I knew yesterday that I needed to get a message out to our community and was troubled by that. I’m a leader, and I thought, “How can I give a message of hope when what I see feels hopeless?”
“So I promise you that UVa-Wise stands for people of adversity, adversity of beliefs, adversity of religions,” Henry said. “I can assure you that we will stand up to hatred, and that we will stand up to anything that works to separate us.”