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BU President Responds to Charlottesville Violence

Denounces racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric, urges civility


In the wake of last weekend’s violent demonstration by white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia, and in advance of a “free speech” rally planned for this Saturday on Boston Common, Robert A. Brown, president of Boston University, sent the statement below to the Boston University community on Thursday.

Dear Members of the Boston University Community:

As has happened too often in recent years and months, our nation has been shaken by an act of violence—this time the fatal motor vehicle attack on counter-protesters at the demonstration in Charlottesville. We mourn the tragic loss of life and deplore the attack and the hateful, explicitly racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric that created the environment in which it was perpetrated.

As we seek in our democracy—and our academic community—to appreciate and understand difference, we speak of tolerance and the fundamental importance of free speech and respect for diverse points of view. But tolerance doesn’t necessarily imply or entail acceptance or approval. Palpably evil acts, such as occurred in Charlottesville, invite the challenging question about what is and is not tolerable or morally acceptable in speech and accompanying deeds. It is clear to me, and I believe it a view that is broadly shared in our community, that a claim of inherent racial or ethnic superiority is abhorrent. We must, I believe, explicitly denounce white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups that make such claims.

The obligation of our community must be to hold fast to the values that are in our Boston University DNA. As we participate in broader conversations in our society, we should seek to set a standard of civility and generosity of spirit in discourse that perhaps over time will be an illuminating counterpoint to the hate speech that threatens the very fabric of our republic.

In a time when many individuals are using language in ways intended to provoke and divide, it is almost natural to wish to limit speech. The success of Boston University in fulfilling its vital mission in our society depends on freedom of inquiry and speech—even when that speech is objectionable to many.

We are likely to be tested again, either by rallies, such as the one that will occur this Saturday in Boston, or by provocative speakers or writings. I encourage members of our community to show that the values of our University and the principles of the Constitution are an effective counterweight to the behavior of a few who would seek to divide us and our nation.


Robert A. BrownRobert A. Brown


16 Comments on BU President Responds to Charlottesville Violence

  • www.soccerrebounders.us on 08.17.2017 at 8:03 pm

    Thanks for finally talking about >BU President Robert A.
    Brown Responds to Charlottesville Violence | BU Today | Boston University <Loved it!

  • Mrs Terry Baurley on 08.18.2017 at 6:15 am

    Well said, I also would encourage people to explore deeper conversations rather than projections. It is easy to misinterpret another.In addition to consideration of context that supports the view or belief. Constructive conversation can change someone’s point of view and become a friend instead of an enemy.

  • Raul Fernandez on 08.18.2017 at 7:38 am


    It would be more accurate to say that President Brown has commented on the violence in Charlottesville. A response to the rise of white nationalism against the backdrop of white privilege, systemic racism and institutional indifference requires more than words. A true response would be to double down on college access programs and to develop campus-wide support services for students of color and other minoritized groups.

    More to the point, a true response would be to launch a panel to consider every way that our institution unintentionally promotes white privilege and then to make changes and institute programs specifically designed to counter those effects.

    It would also mean reckoning with a structure on our own campus that bears the name of a notoriously racist figure – the Yawkey Center for Student Services. While technically named for the Yawkey Foundation, which admittedly does good work, that nuance is lost on the passer-by. Instead, those who know history, recognize it as the name of one of the most racist figures in all of sports – Tom Yawkey of the Red Sox, an unabashed racist who was the last owner to integrate his team more than a decade after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier.

    It’s Yawkey’s name that greets visitors entering campus through Kenmore Square. It stands as a stark reminder that this institution has done little to address ongoing campus climate issues for students and employees of color.

    Of course, there is more that we can and should do. And while many of my colleagues are doing their part to combat systemic racism, it will take leadership from the top to engage our campus in a meaningful dialogue that leads to significant changes which are backed by the institutional resources necessary to move us forward.

    Leadership in the form of action, not words.

    • Amanda Alvarez on 08.18.2017 at 9:46 am

      Well said, Raul.

    • White Privilege? on 08.18.2017 at 2:52 pm

      Here’s a news flash for you. Not every white person has a gilded path created for them in life. So stop generalizing an entire race of people as enjoying some privilege almost implying that every door is automatically opened for us, almost implying that we’ll become CEO of a corporation without having to spend a day in school. In fact, many doors are closed in our face as institutions (both academic and private sector) have deliberate quotas for minorities. So let’s talk about minority privilege as well.

      • Melissa on 08.18.2017 at 3:31 pm

        The difference is you as a white male can see the door. Minorities might not even know it exists. That is your blind spot to your white privilege.

        • White Privilege? on 08.18.2017 at 4:05 pm

          Please stop playing the victim. I don’t recall enjoying any ‘privilege’ throughout my life. Working hard in school and having goals, which are the premise of doing well further in life, is not something that is afforded to only the white race and was not something that showed up at my door on day one. Next we’ll hear that the ability to digest food and breathe air is easier for white people.

      • Peter Wiernicki on 08.19.2017 at 11:33 am

        You have it all wrong White Privilege. White Privilege is real. Have you ever have someone look at you then suddenly roll up their car windows out of perceived fear? Have you ever been denied an interview for a job – even though you’re qualified – because your name “sounds African?” Are you constantly reminded of your race every moment of every day because: a) there are few if any people that look like you at work?; b) you see lynching-inspired nooses hanging from trees at Halloween?; you see people of the majority fly flags or celebrate monuments that glorify the Confederacy – a quasi-nation founded on the idea of institutionalized racism? These are just a few things that those of us in the majority (myself included) need to awaken ourselves to. It’s not okay for us to remain blissfully unaware. We can never hope to be “a more perfect union” if we fail to see things the way they truly are and confront those problems head on.

        And for the record, quotas are illegal. Colleges affirmatively accept people from all walls of life all the time. It’s not just race, it’s student athletes, students whose family members attended that same college, “full pay” students, students of major donors, people that are well connected to college and public officials. The list goes on and on.

        I encourage you to read more on these topics. Embrace what’s uncomfortable. Talk less and listen more. Like all things it will be hard to do at first, but if your goal is to learn, you may find that your eyes will be opened.

        • White Privilege? on 08.19.2017 at 9:08 pm

          Peter, take the time to read before responding with more flawed logic.

          Just because I may never experience the forms of discrimination that you describe doesn’t mean that I haven’t experienced other forms of discrimination and that I don’t deal with everyday struggles. The term white privilege should not be used loosely and generally to mean that just because someone has blonde hair and green eyes that they’re guaranteed success and wealth. Based on my 46 years as an Earthling, everything that I’ve experienced has been the result of choices and hard work. I didn’t graduate magna cum laude from BU because John Silber liked how I looked. The AICPA didn’t knock on my door and hand me my CPA certification because I’m white. I worked hard and studied hard. If white people and only white people were successful in life, then I might sit here and scratch my head saying hmmm something is wrong here. But that’s hardly the case.

          I’m curious to know what special services Raul is looking for BU to provide to help minorities deal with all of the white privilege that seems to be interfering with his success at BU.

          • Sesqahanna Lord on 09.07.2017 at 2:22 pm

            Well said!!!

        • Gerald collins on 08.19.2017 at 11:10 pm

          The continued use of white privilege really aggravates me and used to divide not unite. I grew up in the inner city of Boston. Through education and high expectations of my foreign born parents I attained the American Dream. I had black classmates that came from money who had black privilege. Stop dividing people by using the term white privilege. it does not help race relations

    • Peter Wiernicki on 08.19.2017 at 11:35 am

      Well said Raul.

  • Anna on 08.18.2017 at 10:29 am

    Although the KKK is detestable, they have a right to free speech and to hold their protests without violence against them. Their numbers were dwindling until the liberal media gave them the spotlight and created a fake race war. Thanks to white liberals for making minorities like myself feel hated.

    • gerald collins on 08.18.2017 at 12:59 pm

      Anna. I agree. The liberal media is giving these hate groups such as the KKK too much attention. Most Americans are not racist and want under represented groups to do well. More focus should be on how improve the lives of these underreprsented groups

      • Anna on 08.21.2017 at 3:19 pm

        Yes. I would like the media to highlight the positive. You are an intelligent man. Run for office?

    • Andrew Wolfe on 08.22.2017 at 4:25 pm

      The American people never followed Nazism in any numbers. There have been “big Nazi rallies” every decade or so since the 1930s, except they were always pitifully meager and, as far as I can tell, their big rallies never gained them any followers. When Americans see Nazis, they reject them over and over again. They have proved repeatedly that when you allow free speech with free discussion, vile groups like them lose. I’m very disappointed in the news media giving them a platform that makes them seem so much larger than the minor blip on the radar that they really are. What is more objectionable is when ordinary white Americans who have, as I said, rejected Nazism over and over again, are somehow tarred with accusations of Nazism just because they are white. Same with the KKK, although that was a very large group some decades ago. The worst part of the coverage, however, is not that it enlarges these tiny groups way beyond the reality, but that it consistently drives wedges between Americans. Like Anna, it seems like trying to provoke a race war.

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