In the wake of August’s white supremacist rally at the University of Virginia campus, UVa-Wise officials say they have policies and procedures in place to handle demonstrations by off-campus groups and individuals.
The University of Virginia and Charlottesville saw a weekend of demonstrations and protests that ranged from a torchlight rally on campus by supremacist groups to violent off-campus clashes the next day between supremacists, anti-facist Antifa activists and a range of other non-violent demonstrators.
One woman protesting the supremacists was killed when a supremacist supporter drove a car through a group of protestors and struck several people. Two Virginia State Police helicopter crewmen were killed when their helicopter lost control and crashed. Federal safety officials are still investigating that crash.
A vigil was held at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise in August to honor the victims of the tragedy. College Chancellor Donna P. Henty and other members of the community spoke of unity and echoed the message “Cavaliers respect Cavaliers,” a mantra created to spread a message of tolerance and acceptance among the students.
This message, and a quote by the late Papa Joe Smiddy were utilized in the aftermath of Charlottesville to support a sense of community. Administrators are also working to ensure the safety of the students and faculty on our campus.
UVa-Wise Campus Police Chief Ronnie Shortt said the Charlottesville incident poses a new dimension for campus security.
“In my 26 years of service, I have never seen anything close to what happened in Charlottesville and I hope I never do,” Shortt said.
Shortt said the campus police department is prepared to help keep on-campus gatherings and demonstrations peaceful, and he talked about how the department reacts to threatening situations on campus.
While most campus demonstrations have been peaceful and respectful, Shortt said that his officers have several options to protect students and faculty.
Shortt said the UVa-Wise department has cooperation agreements with surrounding municipal police, the Virginia State Police and the Wise County Sheriff’s Department to support each other in a variety of enforcement situations. He cited the open line of communication UVa-Wise maintains between the various departments, and with any protestors or demonstrating groups that come on campus.
UVa-Wise also has a college crisis team made up of campus faculty and staff, led by Vice Chancellor Sim Ewing.
College Director of News Relations Kathy Still, a crisis team member, said that any group has the right to come and demonstrate on campus because UVa-Wise is a public campus. Ewing and Still both emphasized, however, that groups can demonstrate on campus if the operation of the campus was not interrupted.
Impeding traffic or blocking sidewalks or entrances to building for classes are prohibited. Groups deliberately impeding the operation of the college will be asked to relocate. Demonstrators also cannot enter classrooms or disrupt class activities.
The most recent campus crisis was in January 2013 when a student reported that a gunman was on campus. The crisis team met in a pre-determined location to pre-planned emergency procedures. State troopers and area police departments joined campus police to respond.
Students were informed of the potential threat through text messages, emails, and an on-campus siren.
While the gunman turned out to be a hoax and the student was reprimanded, Ewing called the hoax a “learning experience” that demonstrated the ability of the crisis team and campus police to handle a crisis.
Neither Shortt, Still or Ewing could recall any race-related incidents on campus. The police log given to the Highland Caviler shows low crime activity.
“A lot of the lack of crime and disruptions on campus can be attributed to tolerance and respect,” Ewing said, adding that the crisis team tries to strike a balance between free speech and safety.
“A lot of behind the scenes work goes into ensuring that all people can speak freely,” said Ewing.