RU president faces backlash from letter, student-led rally to happen Saturday

Published: Sep. 15, 2020 at 11:16 PM EDT
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RADFORD, Va. (WDBJ) - Radford University’s president is facing backlash after a letter he sent to the campus community showing support for an upcoming march and rally. (See full letter below.)

“We want equality,” said Davante Mosley, one of the main organizers behind this Saturday’s Bigger Picture March and Rally, something he says has been in the works since June.

“We can be unified peacefully, the key word in that being peacefully,” Mosley said.

Monday, President Hemphill sent a letter to the campus community encouraging them to share a united message that Black Lives Matter, adding he supports them.

He asks his Highlanders to "pledge in serving as active and vocal participants by advocating for equality and fairness now and well into the future.”

But the president’s message is facing some criticism from the community, given that Radford has recently been a hotspot for coronavirus.

Radford Republicans ask why schools, businesses and churches have to cut their gathering sizes, what makes the university the exception?

“It is expected that individuals who participate on Saturday will adhere not only to public health guidelines but will be respectful in their behavior,”said university spokesperson Caitlyn Scaggs. “When gathering limits were implemented on campus, there were some exceptions to guidance that was put in place with very limited exceptions,”said Scaggs.

This event is one of those exceptions. It has already been reviewed and approved by the school, allowing them to gather.

“When students come to college they’re given an opportunity to find their voice, to consider the things they care about, that they’re passionate about. This is an opportunity for our students to respectfully speak about issues that matter to them deeply,” Scaggs said.

Masking and distancing will be required. The school said it will be enforced as participants check in.

“Yes, we take the health precautions that are needed to have this event, we can’t wait," Mosley said. “The time is now."

The march and rally will be held Sept. 19 at 4:00 p.m. on Radford University’s Muse Lawn.

Here is the full text of the letter to students:

Dear Students:

Highlanders are known for their caring and compassionate nature. And, I am reaching out today to ask that you serve as exemplary role models for our campus, our community, and our country. With so much turmoil in our nation, we have a unique opportunity to lead by example. To create needed and profound change, I ask that you join me in denouncing racism and reporting discrimination. As an African American, I have witnessed racism throughout my life. I was discriminated against during my childhood, teenage years, and college experience. The individuals who doubted my worth and questioned my ability fueled my desire to reach my goals and support others in reaching their goals. Today, acts of discrimination are still very real for me and so many others. As a University President, I am dedicated to empowering others. As a father, I am concerned about the significant and lasting impact on current and future generations. My personal experience represents just one of the millions of Americans who have experienced first-hand the injustice and intolerance in our society. So many individuals have stepped forward to share their personal stories. These stories remind us that what others say and do have real impacts and, in some cases, tragic outcomes. As a Radford family, we cannot allow others to define who we are, what we stand for, and how we respond. As such, I applaud those who have faithfully supported Black Lives Matter in sharing a peaceful and powerful message for change, as well as hope! As we move forward together in sharing a united message that Black Lives Matter, I am asking members of Highlander nation to pledge in serving as active and vocal participants by advocating for equality and fairness now and well into the future. I look forward to joining with our passionate students as part of The Bigger Picture March and Rally to be held on the afternoon of September 19, 2020. To quote a civil rights legend and the late Congressman John Lewis, “Nothing can stop the power of a committed and determined people to make a difference in our society. Why? Because human beings are the most dynamic link to the divine on this planet.” As Highlanders, be committed, be determined, and make a difference!

With Highlander Pride,

Brian O. Hemphill, Ph.D. President

Copyright 2020 WDBJ. All rights reserved.

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