College Responds to Racial Unrest in Charlottesville

by Haley Burnside

Asst. News Editor

On Aug. 22, Manhattan College President Brennan P. O’Donnell, Ph.D., sent an email addressing the events of late summer to the entire Manhattan College community.

The email, which served as a welcome and a statement on the recent events in Charlottesville, Va., broke Manhattan College’s silence on the matter of current race relations in America.

“Our core values challenge us to work tirelessly to build a world in which all human beings can flourish—a world more equitable, more just, more peaceful, more sustainable, more compassionate, and more beautiful than the world we face each day, in which so many of our brothers and sisters are subject to want, injustice, violence, and degradation,” said O’Donnell via email.

This message follows a summer full of worldwide terror attacks perpetrated by various radicals.

In Charlottesville, this attack occurred during an altercation between far-right, neo-nazi activists and counter protesters. The resulting clash claimed the life of 32-year-old counterprotestor Heather Heyer. has been labeled an act of domestic terrorism by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Two Virginia state police officers also died accidentally in a helicopter crash while responding to the unrest.

The news coverage of the incident created division and controversy among Americans. Some believe that the First Amendment protects the rights of groups like the Ku Klux Klan. Others feel that the messages touted by these groups are considered hate speech, and therefore not protected under the law.

The Manhattan College Student Life Division does not condone or support this kind of speech. Although there has been no sign of any hate groups on campus, the Student Life Division is clear in its stance on this issue.

“We do not support hate in any fashion and we do not support neo-nazi groups on this campus,” said a representative of the Student Life Division in an email statement. “In addition, there is no indication that any organized groups espousing hate exist on the Manhattan College campus, nor would Manhattan College endorse or support any groups in the future.”

Professor Lois Harr believes that campus ministry can play a role in helping educate students on racial issues.

“At our last LOVE & LIFT retreat we spent some time discussing Charlottesville as well as issues of race, class and privilege,” said Harr.

Harr thinks that the Lasallian mission of the school requires the Manhattan College community to be vigilant and present in these types of discussions, and in taking appropriate action when injustices present themselves.

“I think we communicate our mission by teaching, presenting, being a good example, res life programs, the multicultural center and our community standards,” said Harr.

In an effort to prevent any development of hate groups on campus, RA’s have been trained to distinguish hate speech from free speech.

According to senior Alannah Boyle, the recent Charlottesville events redirected certain conversations during RA training.

“During training, we spent time discussing the events in Charlottesville, what constitutes hate speech, and how we, as RAs, can help mediate issues between those with differing opinions,”  said Boyle.

Boyle felt that Residence Life prepared the RAs well in relation to these issues.

“Residence Life did a great job in how they addressed the recent events with RAs,” said Boyle. “I think that it is important for the student population to recognize and Manhattan College to enforce that there is a difference between someone having an opinion you disagree with, and hate speech.”

For senior Elvis Rodriguez, a former member of the multicultural center, the difference between hate speech and free speech is clear.

“Freedom of speech can be summed up into four words: say what you please. There is no limitation to voicing an opinion, unless voiced with the intention to instigate an attack. That is where the line is drawn between freedom of speech and hate speech,” said Rodriguez.

The conversation about free speech has been popular on social media following the Charlottesville riots.

To participate in discussions about race relations, free speech and similar topics students are encouraged to get involved with the Multicultural Center located on the third floor of Kelly Commons.