Charlottesville may be 300 miles up the road but the University of Virginia’s presence hits home in Wise County everyday.
So as the nation watched violence unfold in the city and on campus there this weekend, many people in Wise County were particulary touched because of their connections. Statements came from Chancellor Donna Henry at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, the only branch of the university in Charlottesville. UVa-Wise’s Student Government Association issued a statement of solidarity with its counterparts five hours away. Reactions came from UVa alumni and current students, as well as their parents and family, already in or preparing to head back to the university as classes get ready to start.
“It breaks my heart that a city I love was targeted by white nationalists as a base for their hatred,” said Olivia Davis of Norton, a third-year student at UVa, when asked for her reaction. “However, Charlottesville, Albemarle County and the University of Virginia are strong and will not be ripped apart by the violence that has taken place.
“The community is hurting, but we will not be broken. We will heal. We will not let hatred consume us. We will replace it with tolerance, understanding and love. “
Parent Marybeth Adkins of Norton has one child who has graduated from the university and another who is a rising sophomore. Son Alex had taken a summer school class at UVa-Wise, Adkins said, and then went straight back to Charlottesville to participate in a retreat. He teaches a Bible study class on campus.
When she saw the news, Adkins was worried about his safety, even though she knew he was supposed to be five miles away at the retreat. “I knew he was with the group but I was still scared,” she said. “I was glued to the TV watching what was going on . . .
“To have this in the community that you are living in, his eyes have been opened.”
Her daughter Caitlin had graduated from UVa, she said, and recalls the early struggles of a kid with an accent from this end of the state who felt as if she didn’t fit it.
“I told her, you earned the right to be there, regardless of the way you talk, the way you dress,” Adkins recalled. “I knew she would find her group of people.”
Hatred is learned, she said. “For kids to have to see this violence first hand is disheartening . . .
“You teach your kids that God made us all equal, all the same, then, they go up there and they see this — violence, hatred” and the evil of racism, she said.
In a statement late Sunday afternoon, UVa-Wise Chancellor Henry called the “terrible events” in Charlottesville “heartbreaking and intolerable.
“We at UVa-Wise stand with the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, and all of Virginia in denouncing the hatred, racism and violence that white supremacist groups brought to Grounds, the City, and the Commonwealth.”
Henry sent prayers to the families of Heather Heyer and the Virginia State Police officers who lost their lives. She noted that some of the Virginia State Police deployed to Charlottesville were part of the UVa-Wise family.
As the college prepares for the start of a new academic year, Henry wrote in the message, “it is important to note that we are a diverse campus that is a model of tolerance and inclusion. Let me be clear: UVa-Wise, just as the University, will not tolerate hatred, racism, or the violence that cast a deep shadow over Charlottesville. Our campus is a place for shared ideas and respect for others.
“We will accept nothing less,” Henry concluded. “Let us keep the University and Charlottesville in our thoughts in coming days. We stand with them because we are stronger together.”
The UVa-Wise Student Government Association also issued a statement to show its solidarity and reminded the UVa-Wise community “to fight hate by accepting and respecting those with different ethnic backgrounds, beliefs, and ways of life.”
Asked to provide a statement regarding Charlottesville, Ninth District U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith said Monday morning he was “appalled by the displays of racism and hate in Charlottesville this past weekend. The idea of white supremacy is contrary to our belief, as Virginians and Americans, that all men and women are created equal. I condemn this bigotry and the violence it inspired that caused death and injury. The victims of Saturday’s car attack are in my thoughts and prayers.
“I also mourn the two Virginia state troopers killed in the helicopter crash. They made the ultimate sacrifice as part of law enforcement’s effort to prevent violence and protect innocent lives from the forces of hate this past weekend.”