CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Hundreds of African American and other students at the University of Virginia rallied late Monday to demand that university officials increase the number of minority students enrolled at the school.
The protest was a reaction to the events of Aug. 11 and 12 when white nationalists and neo-Nazis descended upon Charlottesville to protest the removal of a Confederate statue. Heather Heyer, 32, a legal assistant, was killed when an apparent white nationalist drove a car into a crowd of counter-protesters.
Saying they wanted to “claim their grounds,” about 300 students led by the Black Student Alliance at UVA demanded that the university create a more inclusive campus by changing the required curriculum to include including the history of racism and slavery related to the campus and the town.
They also called for an increase in the number of black students — currently 6.4% of the school — to reflect the 12% black population of Charlottesville.
“I don’t want people to think that a passive attitude about race is going to fix white supremacy,” said UVA Black Student Alliance Secretary Devin Willis.
The university says it already makes diversity a top priority and has a higher African American enrollment than most other top schools in the nation.
“Significant progress has been made with African American student recruitment and enrollment and the graduation rate for African American students has been the highest for a public institution for more than two decades,” said UVA Vice President Marcus Martin, who is also the university’s chief officer for diversity. “There has been a 45% increase in first- year African American student enrollment in the past five years compared to an 8% increase for the total class during this period.”
In addition, the UVA Board of Visitors recently approved the erection of a memorial to the approximately 5,000 enslaved laborers who helped build the campus.
Since August 12, many UVA students and faculty, and Charlottesville residents have grappled with the school’s history of discrimination.
Yaselly Sanchez, a fourth year engineering student, said classes need to incorporate the history of slavery and discrimination.
”There needs to be something that the administration can do and something that the students need to take part in and talk,” she said. “Communication is key.”
One the eve of the first day of school, the protesters called for the university to create a system for open talk as well as action to deal with the attitudes that have shaken the community.
“A friend told me that equality is not a straight path and right now we are really on the winding road, but hopefully, we will be able to get through,” Sanchez said.
And the students wanted an increase in the diversity of the student population.
“I’m against the university’s continuing subjugation of unrepresentative communities in Charlottesville,” said said Corey Runkeo, a second year student who studies economic and public policy. “I’d like to see the population of black students be increased.”