Students at the University of Virginia have been relying on support from within the Law School community as a way to move forward following last month’s bigoted demonstrations that led to violence.

On Aug. 11 and 12, many law students had not yet returned to Charlottesville. But a number were moving in or conducting other business in town when they learned of protests on Grounds that Friday by white supremacists here for the Unite the Right rally. That Saturday, more demonstrations and violence followed downtown, culminating in the death of a city resident, Heather Heyer. (See related story: Standing Up for Charlottesville.)

Jianne McDonald, president of UVA Law’s Black Law Students Association, said the start of school has proved comforting for students, both in terms of bringing them together and in providing activities to distract them from dwelling on the ugly episodes.

“Many of us have gotten to the point where we no longer want to talk about what took place because it is painful for so many people in different ways,” McDonald said. “So by just being around people and not being alone has helped.”

Dascher Pasco, president of the Jewish Law Students Association, said, “The atmosphere is heavier than usual,” and added that the angst hasn’t been limited to those who would be the overt targets of hate groups; everyone has been unsettled.

“This event touched all members of the UVA community in a profound way,” Pasco said.

McDonald credited Cordel Faulk, assistant dean and chief admissions officer, and Patrice Hayden, the then-senior director of law firm recruiting, for providing early comfort to students. Faulk and Hayden hosted a dinner for black first-years who were worried or not sure what to make of the news. About 15 students attended.

“A number of 1Ls moved to Charlottesville the weekend of Aug. 12,” McDonald said. “Many of them had no idea what was going on except for what they saw in the news. Cordel and Patrice organized a dinner that Saturday night for the incoming 1Ls and the rest of BLSA so they did not feel alone or abandoned by the Law School during the downtime between their move-in and orientation.”

Faulk said he didn’t have all the answers, but provided resources and emphasized to them “what happened doesn’t reflect the values of the city, the University or the Law School.”

McDonald said a few of the new students told her following the dinner that it reaffirmed their decision to attend UVA.

Pasco said she appreciated another kindness from the administration — the check-ins that came from Student Affairs and Career Services and their respective assistant deans, Sarah Davies and Kevin Donovan, along with Director of Student Affairs Kate Duvall.

“Within hours, they reached out,” Pasco said. “I can’t express how important it is to know you are surrounded by support from the administration as well as your peers.”

Student Bar Association President Steven Glendon said Dean Risa Goluboff and Vice Dean Leslie Kendrick also struck the right tone in their sentiments to students and the public as the news broke, and afterward.

Along with the efforts of faculty and staff, student organizations such as the Minority Rights Coalition helped find safety away from Grounds for students who thought they might be the potential targets of racial violence.

Though just a few weeks into the school year, the Law School already has hosted a number of programs in the interest of recovery and putting the events into context, including one for allies of black students, hosted by the Black Law Students Association; one on understanding racism, hosted by the Jewish Law Students Association; and two other events adding legal and historical perspectives, hosted by multiple groups.

Law for Progress, representing multiple affinity and ally groups, also hosted a welcome-back barbecue for students.

Student organizations reported that they are in the process of planning more events. (Check the calendar for exact details):

  • BLSA intends to continue to hold events for allies, monthly “teach-ins” coordinated by different professors at the Law School and a possible panel discussion.
  • Common Law Grounds will debate scenarios and topics surrounding free speech today.
  • JLSA plans to host a “Shared Shabbat” as a way for the greater law school community to connect.
  • Minority Rights Coalition will host a table to educate the student body on issues relating to diversity and minority rights, and are planning a weekend retreat for the spring semester to discuss similar issues.
  • SBA will a host a town hall-style meeting, with four or five student groups serving as co-sponsors and providing speakers.
  • In addition, J.D.-MBA student Phoebe Willis has arranged a series of dinner talks in coordination with the SBA and Common Law Grounds. The first will be Oct. 17, 5:30-6:30 p.m.

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