Over the years I have encouraged UVA students to be active bystanders and to offer assistance if you witness sexual violence or other unsafe situations on our Grounds. You have provided strong leadership in this area through your #HoosGotYourBack awareness campaign.
I write today to encourage you to take the same active approach if you witness an act of bias or threatening behavior in our community. Several such incidents have been reported this fall through our Just Report It system, and they have involved insults and threats directed toward African-American, Asian-American, Muslim, and gay students. These tend to be anonymous, dark-of-night incidents, such as people in moving cars shouting hateful words at students based on the students' appearance. Remember that every one of our students earned the right to be part of this community, and no student should be subjected to insults or threats intended to make him or her feel frightened or unwelcome.
The effort to conceal the acts in anonymity and the cover of darkness tells me that the perpetrators—who might or might not belong to the UVA community—are aware that their actions are condemned as cowardly and wrong by our larger community. We can expand on our shared condemnation of these acts by taking action. If you witness such an act, please support your fellow students and offer them assistance. Try to obtain and report identifying information such as a license plate number. Do not, however, endanger yourself or provoke a confrontation. Several of the incidents have occurred on or near University Avenue, so I encourage you to be particularly vigilant in that area at night.
Free speech is a right that all of us share, but we also have a responsibility for the words we express. Shouting hateful threats of bodily harm from a moving car, for example, is not a legitimate exercise in free speech. I am grateful to all of our students who are committed to creating and fostering a community based on mutual respect and shared accountability.