One Promise: 184 Universities Pledge Support System


By Rachel Markfelder, Staff writer

Less than 24 hours after the incidents that took place in Charlottesville, Va, on August 13, George Mason University President, Angel Cabrera, sent an email expressing his thoughts and concerns to the student body: “I am deeply disturbed by the white supremacist demonstrations in Charlottesville,” Cabrera said.

Less than a week after the event, Student Body President David Kanos received an email from Paul Jeremy, the Student Body President of Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio. Jeremy started a pledge for all of the Student Body Presidents across the United States to participate in. By signing the pledge, universities show their support for students of the University of Virginia. More than 180 Student Body Presidents from across 40 states, to include Kanos, have signed the pledge.

“George Mason is a university that prides itself on its diversity and this petition solidifies that claim,” said Kanos. “We want to show that George Mason welcomes all races and ethnic backgrounds.”

Mason’s website states that the student body has representation from over 130 countries, all 50 states and 80 different languages.

“After receiving the email, I knew right away I was in support of it,” Kanos said. He talked over the decision to sign it with Student Body Vice President, Kelley Dugan, as well as Associate Director for Registered Student Organizations and Student Governance, Sara Hemming.   

Both Kanos and Dugan recalled the hate crimes that happened this past May at American University in Washington D.C. The morning after Taylor Dumpson was elected American University’s first African American women Student Body President, bananas were hung around the campus with nooses with demeaning racist comments such as “Harambe” and “AKA” the letters for the Alpha Kappa Alpha historically black sorority Dumpson belongs to.

“The pledge needed to be signed to show George Mason’s students that we don’t stand for that. The events that happened at American University could have happened here,” Dugan said.

In 2015, racist images of a dead ape tied in a noose were found in a residence hall at Mason. After this incident, Mason declared its commitment to inclusion.

“That is why it is a goal this year for the Mason’s Student Government to prevent these kinds of things and to make everyone feel safe and wanted,” said Dugan.

University of Virginia student Anne Marie Lee said she received an email from UVA’s President, Teresa Sullivan. “They will not succeed. We will not surrender,” Sullivan said. She wrote that in order to move forward and develop as a community, citizens must be honest about the issues facing our society.

“It’s scary to be here for school now, knowing the events that occurred just last week. Since UVA is a public university, protesters were allowed to express free speech and gather here. However, it is a little comforting to know that most of the white supremacists were coming from other states and not directly from this area. Although I heard one was a UVA alum,” Lee said.

CNN reported that on Aug. 16 thousands of people gathered at a vigil created by UVA’s students and faculty members to pay respects to Heather Heyer. Heyer lost her life after a car drove into a group of people protesting the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville.

“These types of events help make the campus feel more secure and safe,” Lee said. “The pledge is obviously a good thing and it helps, but it is not going to stop them.”

Events like this will continue to happen, but Jeremy’s pledge has made a base network to show that universities are connected and that even though they support the rights to free speech, they do not stand for violence and racist acts.

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Photos Courtesy of Gracie Hall