Radford University president responds to backlash over letter, upcoming student-led rally

Radford University president responds to backlash over letter, upcoming student-led rally
Radford University (FILE) (Source: WDBJ)

RADFORD, Va. (WDBJ) - The president of Radford University sent an open letter to the campus community Wednesday following backlash from a previous letter.

Monday, RU President Brian Hemphill sent a letter encouraging students to serve as role models in denouncing racism and discrimination. He added that he applauds “those who have faithfully supported Black Lives Matter in sharing a peaceful and powerful message for change, as well as hope.”

But the letter received backlash after Hemphill said he looked forward to joining students in the upcoming The Bigger Picture March and Rally. Many community members were concerned given Radford’s recent status as a hotspot for COVID-19.

In Wednesday’s letter, President Hemphill said he wanted to “share additional information in order to dispel rumors that seem to be quickly spreading both on and off campus.”

“The Bigger Picture March and Rally is not an external event. It is not being led or organized by a national organization or anyone who is not affiliated with the university,” he said. “It is an event that is being led and organized by our students who have a desire and right to express their beliefs and perspectives in accordance with the university’s free speech policy and the founding principles of our country. The students have committed to do so in a peaceful and respectful manner, and the university will have measures in place to support their commitment.”

The event, being held Saturday, September 19, will require mandatory face coverings and physical distancing. Hemphill said student organizers have committed to these guidelines and will ensure attendees do the same. Anyone who refuses will not be allowed to participate.

Hemphill also noted only students, faculty and staff of RU would have access to the campus.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the university is helping student organizers with overall event structure and logistical details. Hemphill said, “Despite the university’s gathering limitation, the event is moving forward due to the university’s free speech policy and is modeling the practices and structures of other peaceful demonstrations that have been safely and successfully held during the pandemic.”

President Hemphill reaffirmed he would be in attendance at Saturday’s event “as a sign of my respect and support for our students.” He noted that contrary to some reports, he did not “encourage, recommend or require any individuals to participate in the event.”

Hemphill closed out the letter stating, “With differing opinions and opposing voices, we must show care and respect for one another. Highlanders, together, we can and should model the importance of being strong citizen leaders on our campus, in our community, and across our country through visible acts of kindness and a general respect for humanity!”

You can read Wednesday’s full letter here.

Copyright 2020 WDBJ. All rights reserved.