VCU Pres. Michael Rao wants students and faculty to stay away from a Monument Avenue rally and counter-protests scheduled to take place blocks from VCU’s campus Saturday.
“There is precedence for violence at these kinds of events, and your safety is my paramount concern,” Read an email signed by Rao sent to VCU students and faculty Thursday.
A Tennessee-based neo-Confederate group is planning to hold a rally around the monument of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee Saturday in support of preserving statues to the Confederacy. Counter-protesters also planned a rally nearby.
“I strongly encourage all members of the VCU community to avoid this area Saturday,” Rao stated.
Rao said the event is likely to be emotionally charged and unpredictable, so VCU and local public safety officials “have a plan in place.”
Rao said the university recognizes and takes seriously the freedom of speech, assembly and expression.
“We also have the autonomy of sound judgment,” Rao said, “and we recognize that difficult or contentious debates can be productive only when the threat of violence will not drown out our voices.”
In a statement released Wednesday, Richmond Police Chief Alfred Durham said he wants to avoid a situation like what happened in Charlottesville this August when a rally in the name of preserving Confederate statue attracted white supremacists. It took a violent turn and culminated into a man who had taken part in the rally driving his car into a group of counter-protesters, killing one and injuring 19.
Richmond, which was the capital of the Confederate States of America, is center-stage in the debate surrounding the removal of Confederate monuments. The Lee statue is on Monument Avenue, a boulevard blocks from VCU’s campus, which features large statues of confederate soldiers.
In an email in August, Rao said he advised a group comprised of members of his leadership team, along with faculty members and students to conduct an audit of VCU campuses to determine if symbols of the confederacy, white supremacy, slavery “or other items of an exclusionary nature” exist on-campus.
Fadel Allassan Contributing Writer