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President Reveley message on Charlottesville

William & Mary President Taylor Reveley sent the following message to the campus community Aug. 23, 2017 - Ed.

Dear Campus Community,

On Saturday, August 12th, early in the course of events in Charlottesville and their aftermath, I put the following statement on William & Mary’s website and released it to the media:  “The images and reports from Charlottesville this weekend have been deeply disturbing and tragic for our Commonwealth. Freedom of thought and expression are central to a functioning democracy.  Violence and hate are not.  Bigotry has no place in our communities or on our campuses.  The University of Virginia is very much in the thoughts of those of us at William & Mary.”

It is now important, I believe, to say more.

I was born in the middle of a vast world war in which the USA fought to crush Nazi, fascist and ultra-nationalist movements.   I grew up during the years when the United States Supreme Court and Congress took steps that ended Jim Crow as a matter of law and, in good part, as a matter of practice.  Against this background, it seemed that a Nazi presence in this country, along with KKK, white supremacist and anti-Semitic ideologies, though extant in dark corners, had been consigned to the lunatic fringe of American society.  So it was chilling to see, in mid-August 2017, a neo-Nazi, KKK, and ultra-nationalist force massed in Charlottesville and at the University of Virginia, leading to a weekend of violence and three deaths.  This was pure evil.  White supremacy, anti-Semitism, and “blood and soil” nationalism must not and do not define us as a society.  They most surely have no place as a matter of ideology or practice on our campuses.

Many personal and professional ties unite William & Mary and the University of Virginia.  Among them is a shared commitment to serving, welcoming and valuing all members of our communities, celebrating our diversity and learning daily from the experiences of one another. There is a saying on our campus that “those who come to William & Mary belong at William & Mary.”  This is what we want, it is what we believe, and it is what we work to make a reality for each and every one of us.

W&M and UVa also share a commitment to the safety of our communities.  Lessons learned in Charlottesville will help us ensure that we have policies and practices in place to safeguard our campus were Williamsburg and William & Mary ever thrust into the eye of the storm.  We are prepared.  The safety of our students, faculty, staff, and visitors is transcendently important.

Even as we abhor the sort of hate and violence that blighted Charlottesville, we remember our commitment to the free play of ideas guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment. It is important to reconfirm this commitment following violent events that directly challenge it.  We must be willing to accept the expression even of ideas with which we emphatically disagree, so long as they are expressed non-violently, in accordance with law, and in ways compatible with public safety.  The First Amendment contemplates as well that free speech is the crucial means by which we respond to, and refute, ideas with which we profoundly disagree.

The unifying aspects of our diversity are strongest when accompanied by a willingness to engage ideas and ways of life different from our own and to evolve in our thinking if persuaded to do so by sound facts and compelling arguments.  Americans come from a great variety of nations and belong to many racial and ethnic groups.  We have an enormous range of religious, cultural and political views.   To keep our nation a productive whole, we need to celebrate this diversity and give it robust life by meaningfully engaging the differences that enrich our communities.  This is the sort of diversity we have and want at William & Mary.

On Friday we will welcome to campus the Class of 2021 and new transfer students.  The coming academic year has historic significance in William & Mary’s long life.  At Opening Convocation on August 30th, we will begin commemorating the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the first three African American students to live in campus residence halls and have full access to William & Mary’s facilities and offerings.  Let’s make the coming year one of heightened unity and strong accomplishment.

My best wishes to each of you as we embark on 2017/18.

Taylor Reveley