William and Mary Scholars Undergraduate Research Experience plans to send a letter to the University of Virginia April 9 in a show of solidarity for third-year student Martese Johnson, who suffered head wounds while being arrested in Charlottesville March 18.
Johnson was charged with obstruction of justice, using profanity in public and public intoxication after being turned away by bouncers at a Charlottesville bar. State ABC agents intervened and a video of the arrest has been viewed more than a million times online.
There is a silent march at U.Va. planned April 11 at 4 p.m. Co-director of WMSURE Anne Charity Hudley said that the group decided to write the letter of support because they are unable to attend the march. She said the students wanted a way to show their support and to know they were doing something.
“We come from diverse backgrounds and have various interests,” the letter states. “Yet, we share a dedication to the Commonwealth of Virginia and a commitment to providing greater numbers of underrepresented students access to excellent public postsecondary educations. We are together in this struggle. You are not alone.”
WMSURE is the program offered to recipients of the William and Mary Scholars Award, which is presented to academically successful students who come from an underrepresented group on campus or who have overcome unusual adversity and would add to campus diversity.
WMSURE created a Facebook page to collect signatures and has more than 170 so far. Hudley said she was surprised by how many students outside of the program decided to participate in the campaign.
“One of the great things about the [Facebook page] … was to watch how many students were signing up that were not in the program, people from across the student body, and started inviting their friends … so that people would know about it,” Hudley said.
Students reported a variety of reasons for showing support. WMSURE Scholar Makayla Donigan ’17 is invested in the campaign against police brutality and actively organizes with the College of William and Mary’s Amnesty International and Lambda Alliance chapters.
“I feel like this is a very important issue to me personally,” Donigan said. “I helped organize the protest rally for police brutality — the flagging — so anything to help promote that issue I feel is really important right now, especially in college communities.”
Moussa Dia ’18, a WMSURE scholar, said that he thinks these kinds of events at other schools are often talked about on campus, but nothing tangible is really done.
“I signed it because I think it’s really important that this event doesn’t become isolated — solely a U.Va. thing. I think a lot of the time it just remains at that school and it’s not really heard about at any other places, news media will cover it for a few days, people will have their opinion on it, and then it kind of vanishes,” Dia said. “I think it’s really important that this march is coming up because it brings up the event again after a few weeks have gone by and it really presses the issue about why it’s happened, what can be improved, and what the real issue is.”
Hudley said she believes students are so invested because of how connected the College and U.Va. are. She said that many of the College’s students have friends or siblings in Charlottesville and that many had a choice between the two institutions when picking their future college.
WMSURE is unable to attend the march due to the College’s own Day for Admitted Students. Hudley said that she worries that this year, when faced with a choice between the two state schools, some may choose the College solely out of fear of U.Va.
Some students said they do not think that the College is immune to such problems. Donigan said that she would not be surprised if a similar event happened in Williamsburg.
“I feel like in this instance, our campus has been quieter and slower to respond than normal and I feel like it’s just really important to show that solidarity, especially for that community because even though it’s a U.Va. issue, it could very easily happen here” she said.
Hudley said that while the event is disheartening, she is glad that students, faculty and local police at both the College and U.Va. are taking the opportunity to have discussions and take action. Dia believes the College has been better in its attention to promoting diversity.
“I think when it comes to race, William and Mary really steps up the attention toward it and really stands by their fellow schools because in essence we’re all one, we have friendly rivalries and everything but when it comes to issues like that, we should all stand by each other.”