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RU President supports ‘peaceful’ protest march






Radford University President Dr. Brian O. Hemphill has written an open letter to the “RU Campus Community” encouraging students who plan to participate in the Bigger Picture March, which is set to occur this coming Saturday afternoon, Sept. 19.


Hemphill’s letter encouraged students who plan to participate in the event, stating, “I am reaching out today to ask that you serve as exemplary role models for our campus, 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.”


While the event is being reported as being sponsored by the group “Black Lives Matters” by various social media and other outlets, the official sponsors listed for the group are listed as Diversity Awareness Programming (DAP), NAACP, Lady Ru’s, National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC), Black Student Alliance (BSA) and Radford Student Programing and Campus Events (R-SPaCE).


No releases from the university or City of Radford have directly linked the Black Lives Matter group to the event at this time, but that doesn’t rule out their involvement. One reason many may be under the impression that the group is involved is a logo used on the pamphlet handed out by organizers. That logo shows a raised fist, similar to a commonly used Black Lives Matter logo, but includes the words “#TheBiggerPicture” and “RU.”


In his letter, Hemphill, the second black president in RU’s history, describes how he had been discriminated against for his entire life because of the color of his skin. He also mentions the Black Lives Matter group several times in his message to students, but not in a sponsorship role for the event.


“As a Radford family, we cannot allow others to define who we are, what we stand for and how we respond,” the letter reads. “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.”


Hemphill’s message immediately caused controversy in some quarters for a number of reasons, with the first being that the event, if attended by a large enough group, would break the limit for gatherings both in the City of Radford and on campus. Only 10 students are allowed to gather at a time on campus and only 50 are allowed to gather in the city, with exceptions for church services, funerals and a limited number of other exemptions.


Last month three Radford University students were suspended for undisclosed violations of the university’s COVID restriction policies, one for the remainder of the school year.


According to the Radford University website, the school had an enrollment of 11,870 total students in the 2019-20 school year. That number included 1,651 freshmen, 7,976 total undergraduates and 3,903 graduate students. Of those 8,269 were full-time students and 3,606 were part-time.


Other concerns around the event are centered on the violence and damage caused during other planned protests throughout the country. While the BLM movement claims to be a peaceful organization, violence, personal injury and property damage incidents have occurred at what were scheduled as peaceful protests in many locations throughout the nation.


Finally, concerns over the spread of COVID in Radford City and Montgomery County, which have both recently seen dramatic rises in their infection numbers, have others concerned. Radford rose from just 21 cases July 19, to 685 cases as of Tuesday morning. Montgomery County now has 1,515 cases of the virus. Pulaski County, just across a bridge from both, sits at 188 cases.



Radford Mayor David Horton released a statement Tuesday concerning the matter.


“The Bigger Picture Rally and March has been mischaracterized as some type of national or even state-wide driven activity and that is not accurate,” Horton said. “These are Radford student voices expressing their concerns about issues with race and equality while exploring ways to create a future where all people experience a just society regardless of race, creed, color, national origin, gender and so forth.”


Horton went on to comment on the event and how local ordinances may impact it.


“The City of Radford cannot regulate legal activities on the Radford University campus according to state law,” Horton said. “The Ordinance cannot and does not prohibit expressive activity such a peaceful protest. We have several activities that are exempt including church services and funerals, but in all the exemptions, we have stressed that appropriate COVID 19 safety measures should be followed with masks and social distancing. As you are aware, we have been concerned about large gatherings with regard to COVID 19 as most of our cases in Radford have come about due to people attending large gatherings and not practicing good safety measures such as social distancing and wearing masks along with frequent hand washing. It is a challenging time to have such gatherings because it puts a responsibility on the organizers to limit the spread of the disease through their organization and execution of the program.”


“Situations that have resulted in issues in Radford have not been about the event per se, but about not practicing appropriate safety measures to slow the spread of a dangerous virus,” Horton continued. “Some have asked if this program is in violation of the Radford University limitation on gatherings to no more than 10 people. It is not. There are limited exemptions within that rule that must adhere to physical distancing and safety protocols.”


Horton ended his message with assurances that all measures would be taken to protect students, faculty and community members.


“As Mayor, I have done my due diligence in checking to see what safety protocols are in place for the program and how people can be kept safe,” Horton said. “Event organizers are working to keep people spread out, wearing masks and are even sanitizing podiums and microphones between uses. We are working with the proper authorities to ensure the safety of our community around campus and throughout Radford. Radford City Police and Radford University Police are in close contact and have support of additional law enforcement agencies. I will ask all of us as citizens of this community to help us drown out the hateful rhetoric that is being spread regarding this program. Safety measures are in place. The program takes place entirely on campus.”


Others disagree with allowing the event. Still, others have called for counter-protests during the event.


Senator Amanda Chase, who is running for Governor in the Commonwealth in the upcoming election, posted a message concerning the march on her Facebook page Tuesday.


“Despite the city’s ordinance that clearly prohibits the assembly of any gatherings of more than 50 people and the rising numbers of COVID on the RU campus, he is asking these impressionable minds to follow this Marxist led movement because of his personal beliefs,” Chase posted. “Under my administration as Governor of Virginia I would have a 1-800 number for students and parents to report any sort of agendas that promotes this sort of hate and division. I would also call for the defunding of any state university that participated in such behavior! I personally denounce ANY and ALL forms of racism including the BLM movement!”


Radford City Councilman Forest Hite also commented on the matter.


“To be clear, the rally does NOT violate the gatherings ordinance,” Hite said. “There are several listed exceptions in the ordinance, including expressive demonstrations (as well as religious services, weddings, funerals). Beyond that, though, the rally will be held at and confined to Radford University. As such, so long as they stay on school property, they’re exempt from the ordinance anyway (note the definition of “gatherings” in the ordinance).”

“I, of course, support the 1st Amendment right of all Americans to peaceful free expression,” Hite continued. “However, to be honest, I don’t think holding a rally of any sort in Radford at this time makes much sense.”


“The City of Radford and Radford University are just now on the other side of a very significant spike in cases, and our daily numbers still aren’t down to where they were before the spike, so I think the concerns I’m hearing from the community in that regard are 100% valid. I personally would have preferred for such an event to be delayed until our case numbers had leveled out more (hopefully very soon!); but I’m hopeful that the event organizers will be utilizing every precaution necessary.”


Local law enforcement agencies, including the Radford University Police Department, Radford City Police and other neighboring agencies are expected to have an increased presence in the area during the event.


For the latest developments on this event, be sure to follow The Southwest Times on Facebook or visit www.southwesttimes.com.



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