This morning, we were alerted to an act of racial hatred that occurred last night on a digital platform. The nature of the incident leads us to reach out to each of you today to discuss it. Specifically, the chapters in the National Pan-Hellenic Council at UVA hosted an annual “Meet the Greeks” information session, designed to allow new students to learn more about the fraternities and sororities of the historic “Divine Nine” that are represented on our Grounds. These NPHC member chapters have a long, storied history as welcoming groups for predominantly Black students, and have played an important role in helping Black students navigate majority white spaces here and elsewhere.
During this “Meet the Greeks” online event, an unknown person joined and began to shout a specific and hateful racist slur. We have not identified the individual who did this, including whether they have any affiliation with our community, but our effort to identify them is ongoing. The individual was removed from the session, but when the student host began to show the event’s slides to attendees, this same message of racist hate appeared on the screen in bold red letters. This effort to disrupt an event put on by and for Black students by using a targeted message of hate must be firmly condemned by each of us.
We must also acknowledge this is not an isolated event. Last May, during a town hall hosted by Student Council on Zoom, two unknown individuals (believed to be unaffiliated with the University and located outside the United States) joined the online meeting and used this same racist slur to target a Black student who had just been introduced as a speaker. The same racist slur appeared in the chat feature of the Zoom meeting at the same time. Organizers quickly ended the meeting and then resumed it using a waiting room to control access, but the impact of the racist acts remained on those who experienced it.
Unfortunately, our NPHC chapters are not strangers to being targeted by racist hatred. In January 2019, the Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated chapter at UVA painted Beta Bridge to celebrate the 99th anniversary of the sorority’s founding. Within hours, one or more unknown individuals had painted over the celebratory message with the phrase “It’s Okay to Be White.” The intent of this message was unmistakable. In response, an email was sent to all students condemning the targeting of this traditionally Black sorority and reaffirming our support for these students. We do so again today.
The University remains imperfect, but many strides have been made toward being a more diverse, inclusive and welcoming place for minority students. The path traveled by Black students throughout our institution’s history has been the most difficult, and incidents like those described above show the work that remains to be done. The report of the Racial Equity Task Force delivered to President Ryan on August 10, and the actions by the Board of Visitors last Friday, are important steps toward that objective.
We stand with our National Pan-Hellenic Council chapters, the students who find a home in these historic groups, and all Black students who have been impacted by acts of hatred, and we condemn the actions of those who seek to divide our community and make anyone feel unwelcome or unsafe here.
Allen W. Groves
University Dean of Students
Kevin G. McDonald
Vice President for Diversity, Equity
& Inclusion and Community Partnerships
Dean, Office of African-American Affairs