The college town of Charlottesville, Va. became the scene of deadly chaos on August 12, after a rally to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee.
Student Body President David Thompson, who came into office in May, joined nearly 100 other campus presidents addressing the tragedy.
In a joint statement last week, the presidents wrote, “College campuses are spaces that students should be able to call home, not places of violence, hate, and racism.Students should always feel welcome and safe at our incredible higher education institutions, never having to fear for their personal well-being.”
By David Thompson
When I ran to be student body president, I wanted to be a president for the entire campus, not just for those on the Harborside Activities Board or in the Black Student Association — or even in Student Government.
As one of the first African-American student body president at USF St. Petersburg, I’ve worked hard to achieve a balancing act: representing the entire student body but also knowing what being a minority is like, and how harmful it can be when your leaders don’t show concern for your wellbeing.
However, it is in moments like these that I’m acutely reminded of my blackness. In an arena still dominated by white men, I must make sure that minority voices aren’t pushed to the side, like they so often are.
For many of those who are reading this, what happened in Charlottesville may seem distant —both physically and historically— but for people like me, it seems like yesterday.
Slavery, the Civil War, Jim Crow and segregation were only a few generations ago.
I can directly trace my lineage back to Jamaica and identify slaves in my family and where they were held, and others can too. For many of us, the wounds of the past are still fresh.
My grandmother was born in an era where most black people couldn’t take out a mortgage or even buy a home if a white person wasn’t there to vouch for them.
When my parents were born, segregation was still happening, and believe me, they can tell you stories about the ways they were treated.
So, to have the President of the United States equivocate the actions of counter protestors to the Ku Klux Klan, Neo-Nazis and white nationalists, was not only a lapse in judgment, but a slap in the face to everyone who has experienced discrimination at the hands of these groups.
Regardless of your title, whether it be the President of the United States, or the student body president of a small public university in the Tampa Bay area, your words matter. So, when I saw the events that unfolded in The University of Virginia and at large in Charlottesville, Virginia, I did not know what to say.
However, I knew I needed to say something. Oftentimes, I think that we as leaders forget that we are not only judged based on our actions and accomplishments, but also by the things that we say and by the tone that we set for our organizations.
So, to the students at USFSP: I hear you.
My commitment to you is not only to accomplish the items I campaigned on, but to be a true leader, to stand up for you, to champion your voices, and to be best that I can be.
And to those who wish to spread hate, racism, sexism, or bigotry, know that you have no place on this campus. Your values are not our values, and your actions do not represent who we are nor will they represent who we will become.