On Saturday, August 12th, an unspeakable tragedy unfolded in Charlottesville, Virginia, as a speeding car plowed through a crowd of peaceful protestors, killing 32-year-old paralegal Heather Heyer and injuring at least 19 more. The protesters had gathered to denounce a chilling display of bigotry and hatred that had taken place just hours earlier – the “Unite the Right” rally at the University of Virginia campus, which is reported to be one of the largest white supremacist gatherings in recent history.
Among the peaceful protestors injured in the violent aftermath was 20-year-old student Natalie Romero, a member of UVA’s Latinx Student Alliance (LSA). Romero suffered multiple injuries and a small skull fracture and is currently hospitalized. She does not have health insurance, and her family is soliciting donations to help cover her medical expenses with this GoFundMe campaign.
As the campus – and the country – reels from the events of the last weekend, we reached out to Romero’s fellow students at the Latinx Student Alliance to hear about how the climate at UVA has changed since Donald Trump’s election and what it means to be a student of color preparing for a new school year in the context of this tragedy.
The following statement was provided on behalf of LSA by its president Raquel Talbott Villela.
As the horrific events unfolded at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville this past weekend, we were all shocked and devastated by the news of violence and hate being spread within our community. Since many of us were not in Charlottesville at the time, we were relentless in trying to understand what had happened. We were constantly updating one another within our LSA GroupMe, then came one message that truly shook us all to our core: “Does anyone have an update on Natalie?” We discovered that our fellow LSA member and dear friend, Natalie Romero, was struck by the vehicle that plowed into the crowd of counter protesters and was badly injured. It was then that we truly realized that this issue was no longer subtly lurking in the shadows, but that it was loud, violent, and on our doorsteps, or should we say, on the steps of the Rotunda, a space we have all given the privilege of calling our home.
We, as members of the Latinx Student Alliance at the University of Virginia, aim to make our community an inclusive and safe space not only for Latinx students, but for all students who believe they need a home away from home. Through our student run organization and our involvement with the Hispanic-Latinx Peer Mentorship Program through Multicultural Student Services provided by the university, and countless other organizations, we strive to create a community of support for students so that they may succeed during their time at UVA.
Racism and bigotry affects many of us within the minority community. At UVA, LSA is always an ally to those who are systematically oppressed. During the 2016 Presidential Election and after the election of Donald Trump, a series of public hate speech incidents were seen at the University. Racial slurs were written on walls of two separate dorms, anti-semitic graffiti was found scrawled on an apartment complex, and racial slurs were directed at several students. In response to these events, we co-sponsored Eliminate the Hate, a campaign aimed to end hate speech around Grounds and advocate for a more inclusive community at UVA. The events that happened during the “Unite the Right” rally reminded us that our fight isn’t over, we will continue to strive to ensure that our community is one that is tolerant, accepting, and above all safe for all students.
In times like these, we must remember how important it is to not stay silent against hate and bigotry. All of our silence must end and all of our voices must be heard. As said through the words of Cesar Chavez, “We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community… our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.” Therefore, it is our duty as an organization and as a minority student population at the University of Virginia to be an example for others, as well as offer our support to our fellow UVA students and our local community. Our Grounds are no place for racism, hatred, or bigotry.
The Latinx Student Alliance at the University of Virginia