By MEAGHAN MCINTYRE
On Thursday, Feb. 23, a statement was drafted by a group of student leaders and sent out to the University of Mary Washington community in response to events that have taken place both on campus and nationwide over the last few weeks regarding hate speech. This statement was written and signed, by leaders of 30 campus organizations. The message in the email regarded embracing differences, speaking out against hate rhetoric and supporting one another.
In the statement, the leaders encouraged the UMW community to support and respect each other’s differences.
“This is our UMW, our community is built from our differences and with our differences…We are built on respect for each other, for faculty, and for staff… we construct the ideals of our campus community on the pillars of our morality and our intellect,” stated the email.
Members of the Young Democrats and College Republicans first came to Dean Melissa Jones about drafting a letter to the community after the travel ban was placed.
“It started as an idea from the College Republicans and Young Democrats who wanted to affirm our community values,” Dean Jones said. “There was a desire to not have it be political… they wanted it to be from a collective group of students.”
Dean Jones sent an email out to student organizations to organize a meeting between the leaders after The Blue & Gray Press published the article about the Nazi note found on Campus Walk. The first meeting took place on Friday, Feb. 17 and more meetings took place throughout the course of the following days. The group of student leaders worked together to make a message that was the voice of the students and expressed unity in the UMW community. The group’s logo is UMW United.
“We wanted to offer comfort and support to students who feel like they are being threatened and attacked,” said senior English major Danielle Howard. “A lot of people were upset with the delay of the university making a statement. We wanted to let students feel that whether they had the support of administration or not, they always have the support of their fellow students.”
The group also wishes to promote a sense of safety on campus.
“The purpose of the statement was to let the campus community, specifically students, know that as fellow students we will not accept hateful rhetoric on our campus,” said senior sociology major Mariam Khan. “We want to ensure the safety of everyone.”
In the statement, students were encouraged to speak out if they ever witnessed discriminatory or hateful acts on campus. The message stated that actions such as hate speech are not in line with the core values that Mary Washington stands for.
“We want to address not only what the problems with the propaganda were but also to provide comfort to students,” Howard said. “To let them know those aren’t UMW values and to let everyone know they are welcome here.”
Protecting UMW’s sense of community was important to students involved in writing the statement.
“The goal of the student group is to promote our community values and serve as a resource for students on campus,” Khan said.
In the statement, the leaders suggested the UMW community support and respect each other’s differences.
“This is our UMW, our community is built from our differences and with our differences… We are built on respect for each other, for faculty and for staff… We construct the ideals of our campus community on the pillars of our morality and our intellect,” according to the email.
While the group is student run, it formally originated when Dean Jones sent out the email and organized the meeting amongst leaders.
“What’s been neat to watch is how this group came together around this incident, stood up, and said that this is not what our community is about,” Dean Jones said. “And they are committed to continuing that. It’s been an amazing experience.”
As a way to keep the conversation going, outside of the statement that was sent out on Thursday, the students also aim to hold a banner signing and create buttons to be used as a sign of unity. To help work go more smoothly, the student group created different subcommittees based off of individual interests and strengths.
“There are three main groups,” Howard said. “We started with a big Google doc and emailed everyone but then divided into subcommittees.”
While the statement was created as a result of the events that have gone on, the group is hoping for their statement to have a lasting impact.
“It is not a closed forum,” Dean Jones said. “They very much see this as a continued conversation. It is one of the things that make our school so great. When we say community, it is not just a word, it is a way of life. It is an overwhelming sense of ‘I got your back.’”