A UVa Historian Talks About Charlottesville’s White-Supremacist Rally a Year LaterHistorians in the News
tags: racism, Charlottesville, white supremacist, Claudrena Harold
… This month, a group of UVa faculty compiled a book of essays, Charlottesville 2017, published by the University of Virginia Press. Claudrena Harold, a professor of African-American and African studies and history, co-edited the volume. Harold teaches a class on the history of African-American students at UVa called “Black Fire.” She spoke to The Chronicle about how the campus has felt different since white supremacists descended upon it — and how it remains very much the same. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q. What was this year like for you? A. It’s been a whirlwind of a year, with moments of hope and disappointment.
A: I don’t think the university was at zero with regards to talking about race, talking about the history of white supremacy, or talking about the current manifestations of racial and economic injustice. That work was already being done. I think in this moment that work was magnified.
One of the things that August 11 and 12 did was that it did add some new allies and partners to the struggle for racial and economic justice at UVa and beyond.
I would say that it moved some factions of the university in a more positive direction. At the same time, I think there are those of us who are still disappointed and not quite satisfied. It’s important to talk about the reality of racism and economic injustice. It’s also important to implement policies that generate real substantive change in the everyday lives of people. We also have to talk about issues of economic inequality, issues of affordable housing. We have to talk about the ways in which the university and the expansion of the university also affect the citizens of Charlottesville.
I’m at the point where I want to move from policy to action.
Q. Have the efforts to process what happened and make recommendations been helpful?
A. One of my primary concerns going back to Grounds [a term used at UVa in the place of “campus”] in August was the safety of my students. There were students returning who had real concerns. There were parents of African-American students who contacted me with questions such as, When are the white supremacists coming back? When they come back, what measures does the university have in place to guarantee the safety of my child?
I felt as if I was a part of a community of individuals and institutions addressing these issues. I did not feel isolated. The history department decided, for example, to have a series of conversations and forums related to matters of race and social justice. The forums ranged from conversations about the history of racism on Grounds, black student protest, and anti-semitism to matters of racism related to fraternities and sororities. The idea was to provide a space for intellectual engagement, for healing, and also for students to get answers to questions that they had.
At the first event about 300 people showed up. After the event we had breakout sessions. In those sessions first-year African-American students raised questions about their safety and communicated some of their concerns about walking across Grounds at night. That was extremely important.
In a moment of crisis, you have to think about the role of the scholar. For me it is about providing intellectual spaces for our students to process these issues. ...
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