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UVA Student On The Community's Response


University of Virginia students began to move into their Charlottesville dorms on Thursday, just days after the so-called Unite the Right rally brought hundreds of white nationalists to their town. And, of course, Heather Heyer which killed her. Bryanna Miller is a student member of the Board of Visitors at UVA and past president of the Black Student Alliance there. She joins us now from member station WVTF in Charlottesville. Thanks so much for being with us.

BRYANNA MILLER: And thank you for having me.

SIMON: What's it been like this week?

MILLER: Oh, this week has been just a roller coaster. I think from Friday night being surprised when the white nationalists came onto our campus. It was terrifying Saturday, seeing the violence downtown. And then now, moving forward, recently, we had a vigil on grounds to reclaim our university. But there's so much more work to be done, and I think students recognize that. And we're beginning the process now what our next steps will look like.

SIMON: I gather you live in one of these what are called historical rooms on the central lawn, which brought you into a particular close contact with events?

MILLER: I do. I do. So around 8 p.m., almost an hour before they actually marched on the lawn with the torches, students on the lawn were notified that they were coming. And so there were three of us locked into this room as they began to march down. And they were yelling and screaming, you will not replace us and blood and soil. And we just heard those messages so clearly, so we locked the doors. We turned off all the lights. And we were peeking through the mail slot to see what was happening because I think we knew that even though it was too dangerous to go outside, we still had to bear witness to what was happening on our grounds.

SIMON: White nationalists said they chose Charlottesville because it's a college town, because it's considered to be to the left politically. This is a university that has to contend with its history, doesn't it?

MILLER: And that is certainly true. And I think something that demonstrates the extent that students care about the university, there were students out there on Friday night that were doing their best to counteract the hatred that the white nationalists were bringing to our campus. They were locked arm-in-arm around that statue before they were evacuated because you're right, our track record is mixed. Our history is very challenging and difficult.

SIMON: When you mentioned encircling the statue, you mean the statue of Mr. Jefferson, right?


SIMON: Who owned slaves and founded...

MILLER: Owned over 600 people throughout his lifetime, yeah. It's difficult to go to a university where the founder is someone with a complicated past. And it's something that students are wrestling with all the time.

SIMON: Well, what made you protect the statue?

MILLER: So I wasn't out there, so I can't speak to what their particular motivations were. But from what I understand, I don't think it's about protecting Jefferson at all. I think it's about protecting the values and the mission of this institution and recognizing that that statue, that northern portico was where the white nationalists wanted to claim. And so it was more of a rejection of their message, rather than protecting, you know, the image itself.

SIMON: Do you think events of this past week have been some kind of turning point?

MILLER: A hundred percent. A hundred percent. Our bicentennial happens in October, and we're trying to imagine what the next hundred years will look like. And moving into the third century, I think it's important to recognize that diversity has to be at the center of it.

SIMON: Bryanna, it's been a tough four years to be at UVA, hasn't it? You had a very high-profile murder. You had the assault of a black student by police. You had the imprisonment of a UVA student in North Korea. My gosh. What's it been like to be at the center of this community?

MILLER: The only way that I can explain it is to say that after every incident, this university finds a way to come together. And that is what has kept me here (laughter). There were many points in time when I considered transferring and going to another university, but at each turn, this university and this community have come together. And I see this point as another coming together.

SIMON: Well, Bryanna Miller is a rising fourth year student at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Thanks so much for being with us.

MILLER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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