Charlottesville CommUNITY Dialogue

8.23.17_Features_Jamal Sykes_Vigil_w_Jamal Sykes

Courtesy of Jamal Sykes

Jamal Sykes
Staff Writer

Since the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville Virginia, on Aug. 11, the nation has been rife with discussions of racism, the current state of the United States’ government as well as society at large. Many of our social media feeds have been flooded with anti-Nazi memes, anti-liberal posts and centrist viewpoints from friends, family and followers who all want to express their opinions on the matter of American race relations.

The rally, which was titled “Unite the Right,” saw a gathering of far-right political groups including those belonging to the self-entitled “alt-right,” the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis among other smaller white supremacist groups.

All of these groups came together to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate General, Robert E. Lee, that is located on the University of Virginia’s campus.

Wielding torches, shouting inflammatory words and giving Nazi salutes; they marched across the campus grounds, hoping to strike fear into the hearts of all who opposed them, but they failed.

On Aug. 12, the rally was met with pushback from counter-protesters that wished to see the statue removal. Counter protestors included groups such as Black Lives Matter, Antifa and even local members of clergy.

Things escalated quickly when the opposing sides met one another as words, fists, projectiles and other weapons were exchanged in a battle that extended beyond ideological beliefs. Then, the protests took an unexpected and deadly turn: an act of domestic terrorism.

At 1:45 p.m., a gray Dodge Challenger, driven by James Alex Fields Jr., sped down an alleyway and into a crowd of counter-protestors, causing the crowd to go into a panic. Footage of the incident can be found online that shows people screaming and  flying in the air, with some bystanders beginning to rush at the car as it reverses.

Fields fatally injured 19 people and took the life of Heather Heyer, a 32-year old paralegal and Charlottesville native. Fields was then arrested, and several charges were made against him, including Second Degree Murder for Heyer’s death and three charges of aggravated malicious wounding.

Later that same day, around 4:40 p.m., a Virginia State Police helicopter crashed, killing 48-year-old Lieutenant Pilot, H. Jay Cullen, and 40-year-old Trooper Pilot, Berke M.M. Bates. Both men were Virginia State Police Officers that were on their way to the site of protest to help provide aid and ensure public safety.

Here on UNCG’s campus, the Office of Intercultural Engagement encouraged our Spartan community to come together through a variety of programs, including its CommUNITY dialogue series. The CommUNITY Dialogue series is a town hall-style meeting, which centers a current event or topic and allows for all points of view to meet and discuss.

On Aug. 15, UNCG’s Office of Intercultural Engagement planned on continuing its CommUNITY Dialogue series to include the Charlottesville Protest and the events that followed. At the last minute it was changed to a vigil for Heather Heyer, Lieutenant Cullen and Trooper Pilot Bates.

The vigil was held on the EUC lawn where groups of students and faculty members gathered in memoriam of those slain during the Charlottesville protest. Members of faculty and offices spoke and gave words of encouragement to those affected by the event.

Gus Peña, Director of the Office of Intercultural Engagement, began the vigil by stating that the UNCG community: “condemns hate speech and violence,” and encouraged those in attendance to “seek and find support in one another.”

Julia Mendez Smith, member of the Chancellor’s Council, was there to speak on behalf of Chancellor Gilliam, who was unable to attend the vigil.

Smith quoted Gilliam as saying, “As we gather here, we are saddened by the events at Charlottesville. There is no place for hate, white supremacists, the KKK or neo-nazis. I encourage those in attendance to look around at each other. We are all unique with individual ideas. College is a place for experience. Engage in civic dialogue, even with those who you disagree with.”

Holly Shields, President of the Student Government Association, echoed the ideas of our community’s diversity, stating that, “we are all connected by our humanity, dreams and shared fate.”

Dr. Jennifer Whitney, Director of the Counseling Center, noted that events such as this can be hard for some to cope with and extended a helping hand, saying, “we are here to uplift your mental health and support you as we make sense of this world.”

The last to speak was Brett Carter, Director of the Division of Student affairs, who wanted students to realize that an education at UNCG goes beyond hitting the books, as it helps us “develop skills to be active citizens.”

The Division of Student affairs plans on hosting a variety of educational programs about the freedoms of speech and expression in the coming weeks.

Social justice, equality and diversity are things that we take pride in as students and alumni of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Being a Spartan is more than hanging out on the EUC lawn or trying not to walk under the clock before your graduation. When we “bleed blue and gold” we are acknowledging that we are collective a community. One that can engage in discourse despite our opposing views and a community that does not deal with oppression and intolerance. In these times, it is important to come together as we fight the good fight against the issues that trouble our society.

For more information about the Office of Intercultural Engagement and their CommUNITY Dialogue series, visit their office on the ground floor of the EUC, Monday through Friday, from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., or visit their website at https://intercultural.uncg.edu/.

If you are in need of counseling, visit the Counseling Center’s website to see hours of operation, schedule an appointment or learn what to do when in a state of crisis.

If you witness or are a victim of a hate crime on campus, contact UNCG Campus Police immediately at (336) 334-4444.



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