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Stunning cowardice at the University of Virginia

The school won’t even acknowledge a self-evidently racist incident on campus

At the University of Virginia this week, a bizarre, racist incident played out in the school’s new Multicultural Student Center: A young black woman stood up in that space and announced that there were “too many white people in here.” The student essentially urged white people to vacate the public student space because their presence there made nonwhite students “uncomfortable.” She was greeted with a round of applause for this little soliloquy.

That’s big news: A student standing up in the middle of a university space and essentially declaring it off-limits for members of a specific race. One shouldn’t expect the media to care all that much about it—the media, who will generally cover any event if it has even the slightest whiff of racism, cannot be bothered to do so when the targets of that racism are white—but the response from the university community was even more astonishing.

The university released possibly the most ineffectual, evasive statement possible in response to the controversy. The statement itself didn’t even mention, even indirectly, the racist rant one of its students had delivered in a university-owned space; rather, the school merely noted that student centers “are open to all members of the community.” A university tweet accompanying that statement noted, obliquely, that “some questions have been raised regarding the scope or inclusivity of these centers.”

The university administration is sending a very clear message here: If white students are vilified and attacked on campus, the school will be too afraid to even mention it in any official capacity. That’s leadership for you.

At the campus newspaper The Cavalier Daily, meanwhile, the student journalists over there took one look at the situation and determined that the breaking story here wasn’t the racist student delivering a racist broadside in a public university space; rather, the newspaper ran with this headline:

U.Va. clarifies that the Multicultural Student Center is open to all members of the University community following calls of ‘racial intolerance’

One would be inclined to cringe if this wasn’t likely a deliberate attempt to downplay the situation. The most charitable interpretation here is that whoever wrote that report apparently thought the most newsworthy angle to this controversy was the university’s “clarification” on school policy rather than the open racism the school only half-responded to. And though it’s incredible that anyone has to point this out: The issue here wasn’t “calls” of “racial intolerance,” it was actual racism—caught on video, even! If this is the state of UVA’s campus journalism, no wonder the school feels comfortable giving such worthless statements about campus controversies.

Lastly, the perpetrators of this loathsome controversy: The woman who delivered the rant, and the one who propagated it on social media both initially reveled in the controversy, mocking their critics and retweeting the criticism directed at them. When the story received a little media attention, however, they both quickly locked down their social media accounts. From gleefully unrepentant to too terrified to even be seen on the Internet: That’s bravery for you.

The University of Virginia takes an almost obsessive pride in the legacy of its founder, Thomas Jefferson. It’s more or less deserved. But this kind of cowardice is shameful to that legacy and to the present-day university he created. “Action will delineate and define you,” Jefferson remarked at one point. Never was that more true than in Charlottesville this week.

MORE: Video shows student urging whites to leave campus center

IMAGE: Joseph Sohm / Shuttersock.com

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