After white nationalists marched Friday at the University of Virginia and Saturday in Charlottesville for a “Unite the Right” march, nearly 1,000 Utahns gathered Monday evening to denounce racism.
“Donald Trump, can’t you hear? Nazis are not welcome here,” the crowd shouted at the Salt Lake County building before speeches from around a dozen community activists.
White nationalists and counterprotestors gathered Saturday in Charlottesville to protest the city’s plan to remove a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. The rally quickly escalated into a brawl, and the governor declared a state of emergency.
The National Guard cleared the area, but the chaos continued. After the rally, Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal, was killed and around 34 others were injured when a car plowed into a crowd of counterprotestors at the downtown mall.
Seeing the protesters Friday night on a college campus, carrying torches and chanting racial slogans, was a wake up call for many members of the Westminster College community, including Russ Costa, a neuroscience professor at Westminster who attended the rally Monday.
“While I knew Nazis and white supremacists existed ‘out there,’ in the dark corners of the internet, etc., it has been shocking to see them cause so much direct violence in, of all places, a college community,” he said in a message to The Forum.
Madison Alleman, a senior theatre major at Westminster College, also attended the rally and called on students at Westminster’s predominately white campus to stand against the show of racism in Virginia.
“I think it’s important for all white people to show up and stand in solidarity and loudly proclaim that this is not okay,” she said. “It’s not a time to be complacent. I think there’s a huge problem with complacency at Westminster — especially because Westminster is a very privileged place.”
Westminster’s Black Student Union did not respond to requests for comment.
Westminster’s campus is more than 2,000 miles away from the University of Virginia, which may make the issues there feel far away to some. However, two racist flyers were recently found posted just down the road from Westminster’s campus, in the Student Life Center at the University of Utah — one of which said “Stop the blacks,” according to The Salt Lake Tribune.
“I would like to say I won’t see that at Westminster, but I’ve seen people walking around with Make America Great Again hats,” Alleman said.
In a letter emailed to the student body Monday afternoon, Marco Barker, the associate vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion, spoke against the violence in Virginia and reaffirmed the college’s commitment to inclusion and diversity.
“While institutions of higher education strive to be bastions of open dialogue, debate, and free speech, we must also strive to foster inclusive excellence — where all aspects of our campus policies, procedures, and practices give voice to diverse perspectives and do not facilitate intimidation, hate, violence, harassment, or discrimination,” he wrote in the statement.
ASW President Ben Pok also released a statement, joining over 130 other student body presidents from more than 30 states across the country on Sunday in signing a letter of support for the University of Virginia and declaring his commitment to advocacy “for the victimized and marginalized students” on Westminster’s campus.
“College campuses are spaces that students should be able to call home, not places of violence, hate, and racism,” the statement reads. “As the voice of our students, we collectively call on one another to speak up in the face of injustice, as silence reduces us to bystanders in oppression.”
In his email, Barker also reiterated the college’s commitment to creating an official diversity statement and to “streamlining bias response reporting and response” as an institutional priority this year.
Alleman said it’s important for students to get involved beyond campus, as well.
“You need to start voting,” she said. “You need to start going to rallies. You need to get involved and continually look at how you can give back to people of color and other marginalized folk.”