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White supremacists marched with torches at UVA. How should universities handle extremist protests?




A member of the Ku Klux Klan holds a Confederate flag over his face during a rally, calling for the protection of Southern Confederate monuments, in Charlottesville, Virginia on July 8, 2017.
(ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images.)
A member of the Ku Klux Klan holds a Confederate flag over his face during a rally, calling for the protection of Southern Confederate monuments, in Charlottesville, Virginia on July 8, 2017. (ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images.)
ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images

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Before the violence broke out Saturday on the streets of downtown Charlottesville, tiki torch-carrying white nationalists marched on the campus of the University of Virginia on Friday night.

In the wake of the demonstration, two USC professors wrote an op-ed in the L.A. Times arguing UVA officials mishandled their response to the march.

"The UVA statements do nothing to debunk Ku Klux Klan members’ and others’ claims about the status of white people," wrote Shaun R. Harper and Charles H. F. Davis III of USC's Rossier School of Education.

They concluded, "[c]ampus chief executives, including those who are people of color, join white nationalists in preserving and exacerbating white supremacy when they neglect to name and boldly counter racism."

So how should universities and educators be dealing with extremist groups who choose to demonstrate on school grounds?

It's an issue that's also sparked heated debate and physical confrontations on campuses in California, including a violent clash at Berkeley in April.

Dr. Charles H. F. Davis III is an author on the op-ed and Chief Strategy Officer of the USC Race and Equity Center. He joined A Martinez on Take Two Tuesday.

What do you think the University of Virginia did wrong last Friday night?

I think UVA, like a number of institutions that are battling with this issue, are often struggling to be very definitive on what is taking place, and naming race and racism when it's appropriate. I think we saw that in the initial statement that was released by the institution, which was later rectified...making very clear that this was a white nationalist and white supremacist event, which is really important when these things are happening.

[Note: a timeline of statements from the University's President and other officials are available here.]

...although UVA may not be able to prevent groups like this from coming on campus, they certainly can make a response, and a very clear one, that says 1) this is not what we stand for and 2) here are the steps we are taking to protect the faculty, staff, and students that work at our institutions.

How should educational institutions address speakers or demonstrators who hold white nationalist or other extremist views? 

I would say immediately they need to let the campus know that this is something that's going to be happening--which we did see at UVA. There was some notification of the university community. Two--They have to speak and denounce the things that are taking place. And three--be very clear about what are the options for the folks who feel less safe because of this presence of campus. Where can they go? Who can they speak to? What are the measures the university is taking to ensure these types of things can happen less frequently, if at all?

I think the other that universities need to be doing, is to be thinking about the every day racism that takes place on their campus. That could be in their classrooms, that could be in community spaces, and take efforts to address those concerns as well. Because it's not just these flash points of things that are happening at this scale. It's also the every day experiences of people of color on their campuses.   

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. To hear the full conversation, please click on the blue media player above.