CHARLOTTESVILLE — The University of Virginia Board of Visitors voted unanimously Friday to remove plaques honoring the Confederacy and to ban open flames, following student demands made after a torchlight march by white supremacists and Nazi sympathizers last month.
The vote will result in the removal of two plaques from the university’s Rotunda that honored students and alumni who fought and died for the Confederacy in the Civil War. The board also approved the students’ demand that the university revise the school’s open-flame policy and declare the Lawn, the university’s most prominent outdoor public space, a residential facility.
The board’s action means open flames, explosives and weapons will be banned from the Lawn. When white supremacists marched through campus Aug. 11, they paraded down the middle of the Lawn toward the Rotunda chanting “Blood and Soil!” and “Jews will not replace us!”
The revision of the open-flame policy clarifies the university’s ability to enforce existing laws that prohibit the unauthorized use of open flames, as well as state laws that ban the burning of objects “in a manner having a direct tendency to place another person in reasonable fear or apprehension of death or bodily injury.”
The three demands approved by the Board of Visitors were among 10 formulated by numerous student groups and endorsed by the student council. On Thursday, in response to one of the demands, the school agreed to acknowledge a $1,000 gift in 1921 from the Ku Klux Klan and contribute the amount, adjusted for inflation, to a suitable cause.
University president Teresa Sullivan announced the school will donate $12,500 to the Charlottesville Patient Support Fund, which was established for those affected by violence on Aug. 12 that left three dead. The board has not acted on the other student demands.
Following the vote to remove the Confederate plaques, Maurice Jones, one of three African Americans on the 19-member board, said, “These were not young men dying for America, they were dying for the Confederacy. And if they had won, I wouldn’t be here with you today.”
The university will move the plaques to a location that has yet to be determined.
Though the torchlight march was the most visible sign of racial hatred on campus, some students said the university has to work harder to address racism that persists in less visible ways at the school. For Clara Camber, a second year student from Fredericksburg, that begins with Thomas Jefferson, the university’s founder.
“Jefferson had powerful ideas and quotes, but can you really separate that from him being a racist and a rapist and a slave owner?” Camber said. “I can’t.”
Nojan Rostami, a fourth year student from Reston, said that as the university deals with Confederate plaques and Jefferson’s complicated legacy, it is in some ways “a microcosm of the country as a whole as it tries to come to terms with its racist history.”
Caroline Mubiru, a second year student from Falls Church, said she no longer feels comfortable as a black woman on campus, particularly when she hears other students say some of the demands go too far.
“The demands we’ve made are a result of years of racism, not just Aug. 11 and 12,” she said. “We have to confront this. We’re past the point of saying that we need to put these things behind us.”
The board’s decision came on the same day it announced the selection of Harvard dean James E. Ryan as the university’s next president. He will replace Sullivan, whose term ends this academic year. Though Sullivan’s departure was planned, she has come under withering criticism from faculty, staff and students for the university’s handling of the march and for not doing more to alert the campus community.
In a speech he delivered to students immediately after his selection was announced, but before the board’s vote on student demands, Ryan expressed his revulsion at the events of last month and said he was encouraged to see steps taken in response.
“Like all of you, I was heartbroken and horrified to see U-Va. and Charlottesville invaded by white supremacists and neo-Nazis. And I join those who have condemned this violent display of hatred,” Ryan said. “But condemning bigotry and anti-Semitism and racism is in many ways the easy part. The hard part, which we’re all facing now, is what to do in response in the short and longer terms.”