VCU asks students to stay away from Monument Avenue on Saturday

VCU asks students to stay away from Monument Avenue on Saturday
Lee statue on Monument Avenue (Source: NBC12)

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Virginia Commonwealth University's President Michael Rao is asking everyone to stay away from Monument Avenue this weekend due to the rallies that will take place.

In a letter to the VCU community, he expressed his concerns for safety.

This Saturday, a group of protesters plans to rally on Monument Avenue, just a few blocks away from the VCU Monroe Park Campus, in support of preserving Richmond's monuments to the Confederacy. Counter-protesters also plan to assemble nearby in opposition. Public safety officials from across the region, including VCU Police, have a plan in place, but this is likely to be an emotionally charged, volatile and unpredictable setting.

For your safety, I strongly encourage all members of the VCU community to avoid this area Saturday. There is precedence for violence at this kind of demonstration, and your safety is my paramount concern.

We all have the freedom of speech, expression and peaceful assembly. As members of a research university community dedicated to education and creativity, we take those freedoms seriously. We also have the autonomy of sound judgment, and we recognize that difficult or contentious debates can be productive only when the threat of violence will not drown out our voices.

I will always support and encourage all of our people to stand up for your beliefs. But we must do so without physical confrontation and harm. Our educational mission—and indeed our democracy—depends on humans listening to and learning from each another and moving forward together, not silencing either by act or by intimidation of those with whom we disagree.

As the national dialogue becomes more vitriolic, we at VCU double-down on our core values of diversity, inclusion, civility and mutual respect. That commitment takes every one of us, from all backgrounds, working together across demography and discipline. Our diversity has always been our trademark, and we recognize that it is also what makes us great.

Our commitment also takes persistence, and the acrimonious national conversation tells us that we still have much to do. We must continue to speak up as a university community, to reinforce our values, to come together and to listen and learn from one another – always respectfully and always safely.

VCU student government also issued a response in connection with Saturday's rally. They want to make sure that "students are aware of the neo-Confederate group that is planning to protest the removal of Confederate statues on Monument Avenue."

Dear Students:

The Student Government Association recognizes that the country's current climate can be considered negative and unsafe, especially for students who feel burdened by recent incidents of hateful rhetoric and actions, and ongoing daily perpetuation of hate. We want to ensure that students are aware of the neo-Confederate group that is planning to protest the removal of Confederate statues on Monument Avenue on Saturday, September 16, 2017.

Every student has the right to voice their opinion, and the students of the VCU Student Government Association are firm in our stance that we do not support racism, sexism, homophobia, or other discriminations against other markers of difference, or any hateful or discriminatory behavior.

This weekend we want to highlight the importance of safety. Be mindful of your surroundings, know when to leave a situation, and read resources such as The Alt-Right on Campus: What Students Need to Know, ACLU Know Your Rights: Demonstrations and Protests, and Ten Ways to Fight Hate to stay informed. In addition, there are opportunities to get involved with the Richmond Community and voice your concerns. This includes attending a City Council meeting, directly contacting your City Council Representative, or emailing Mayor Stoney who is leading the conversation about the removal of city monuments.

Furthermore, the Division of Student Affairs, including Residential Life and Housing and the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, will be collaborating with the Student Government Association on an event entitled "How Does Our RAMily Respond To Hate?" Please stop by on Friday, September 15th at the Monroe Park Campus Compass in front of the Cabell Library from 11:00 AM to 2:00 PM and at the Larrick Student Center from 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM on the MCV Campus. This is an opportunity for students, faculty, and staff to have their voices heard. We hope that you will join us in the conversation.

VCU is also providing transportation for students to attend an alternative event at Huguenot High School called Building A Just Richmond.

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