Letter to the Editor: Arrest of DivestUMW members leads to students questioning university’s values
To the UMW Community and all others it may concern,
I write to you as this academic year’s Inter-Club Association President and soon to be graduate of this university. I love this school. The lessons I have learned here are invaluable; lessons of social progress, critical thinking, the ability to objectively evaluate and observe a piece of material or situation, of what honor and integrity mean. These are things I will carry with me throughout my life.
This past Wednesday I attended the Student Government Association transition ceremony as the current ICA President. Before the commencement of transition, Dean Cedric Rucker gave a speech. This speech revolved around the sentiment of James Farmer and what Dean Rucker had learned from him and how Farmer had influenced the University. Things like the importance of all voices being heard.
As I listened to this speech I was reminded of one of the first classes I took as a student here, my James Farmer seminar with Dr. Leah Cox. In this class we learned extensively of the impact James Farmer had on the University of Mary Washington and the Civil Rights movement across the country. We were taught about Farmer’s extensive participation and action with civil disobedience. I remember reading James Farmer’s, “Lay Bare the Heart,” which details the time Farmer spent in jail for participating in the Freedom Rides, an act of civil disobedience.
When we discussed acts of civil disobedience it was not the members of authority that we found to be seated honorably and with integrity, it was those conducting the civil disobedience, those who were concerned with social and civil progress.
There was a moment of grand irony while I had this rumination. I could see on the phone of another member of this year’s cabinet; students outside George Washington Hall being arrested for acts of civil disobedience.
While a member of our administration gave a beautiful speech on James Farmer, a figure of social progress and the importance of civil disobedience, I was watching police officers, who had been contacted by this same administration, arrest my peers for acts of civil disobedience.
I find it difficult to convey how ashamed I am of this action. I have spent my past year as a member of the SGA Executive Cabinet, a body concerned with representing the voices of the student body. I have learned first hand how important it is for a body to respect all of its voices if it wishes to retain integrity and honor.
I am now perplexed. As I find myself in the last two weeks of my attendance at this university, I am conflicted by the lessons and moral values I have learned and the way our administration chooses to portray these values. Students who chose to take action on something that matters, the longevity of our environment and the image of this university as one that prides itself on progression, were shut down by our administration.
What does this of say of what I have learned at this university? What does this say of the freshman seminar I took on James Farmer, a seminar that was to not only help acclimate me to the college experience, but more importantly, acclimate me to the experience that is the University of Mary Washington? I say again, I am perplexed.
The values I have learned have not only been questioned, they have been denigrated, tarnished and completely disregarded by those who are posed to lead this institution.
As Marty Morrison told our student body in an email, DivestUMW’s sit-in was evacuated “due to escalating safety concerns. The increasing volume of material possessions in the hallway: food, clothing, electronics, etc., as well as ongoing encroachment upon the public walk space and freedom of ingress and egress, created a safety hazard and unreasonably interfered with the functions of George Washington Hall.”
Was it not possible to have the students conducting the sit-in reduce their numbers or items in George Washington Hall? For 21 consecutive days no fuss was made over DivestUMW and their encroaching the safety of the inhabitants of GW. Once more, I am perplexed.
It seems our administration is concerned with keeping the Board of Visitors happy and not rocking the boat. President Hurley refuses to implore Rector Holly Cuellar to listen to Divest UMW in their desire for the creation of a subcommittee on the feasibility of divestment and a commitment to divest from coal by 2016. Both Cuellar and Hurley chose to do nothing on either of these demands. For a university that advertises itself as one that teaches critical thinking it is oxymoronic that the people sitting at the height of the institution refuse to even consider the creation of a subcommittee to explore the feasibility of divestment.
Three individuals have been arrested for doing what they believe is right; for having courage in spite of the possibility of legal implications for conducting an act of civil disobedience. Both the administration and the BOV have exhibited a distinct lack of courage, to be open-minded or take a risk in the interest of preserving our environment and distinguishing this university as progressive.
In my final sentiments I am reminded once more of James Farmer. He writes in “Lay Bare the Heart,” “Courage, after all, is not being unafraid, but doing what needs to be done in spite of fear.”
Your former ICA President, Matt McAloon