Charlottesville, VA. You've probably heard of it. Home to the University of Virginia and Thomas Jefferson's Monticello. And, on August 11-12, 2017, a huge Neo-Nazi rally called Unite the Right in the middle of Grounds and downtown.
I wasn't in town when it was happening; I was tucked safely in the comfort of home 5 hours away, watching with horror from a distance. I remember telling a friend that opening any of my social media accounts was heartbreaking and every notification of a new email from University security or Charlottesville PD was terrifying. I was sad, I was confused, I was scared. I didn't think something like that could ever really happen and especially not in Charlottesville, the city that I've come to know as a second home.
One tragedy from that day that has gone overlooked is this: Charlottesville will be remembered for this event for year to come. It will not be known for being a happy, fun place to live or a friendly, welcoming community to thousands of lonely, scared college students every year. It will be remembered as a place of hatred and tragedy. I'm not saying that we should forget that August 11-12 happened, but I am saying that it should be remembered alongside all of the good things that Charlottesville has to offer to the country and the world. So, I, a UVA student, want you, an outsider looking in, to know these things about Charlottesville and to remember them alongside of this new legacy that, even a year later, we are still trying to cope with and understand.
Charlottesville is welcoming. August, 2016: a lonely, scared, homesick kid got dropped off at college for the first time. I hated everything and I wanted to just go home. Charlottesville and its people welcomed me with open arms and invited me into the community. No one batted an eye at the fact that I missed my home or that I was pretty much over everything that didn't involve weekend visits back there or phone calls with my old friends and family. Instead, they taught me with patience how to see Charlottesville as my second home. And I did. The community took me in and gave me just what I needed right when I needed it.
Charlottesville is loving. After being integrated into the new community my first year, I got to be a part of spreading the love that C'Ville has to share with the newcomers. It was hard to look at the new students, so excited but also so nervous, and tell them that UVA was still a great place to be just a week after the Neo-Nazis wielded torches on our Lawn and our students and faculty surrounded the statue of our founder to protect it from them. But somehow, the love that the city of Charlottesville showed in recovering from the event was even greater than what I experienced my first year.
Charlottesville (and especially UVA) has a complicated legacy, but we're working on it. Like any other human being, Thomas Jefferson had his sins and vices right alongside his virtues and accomplishments. We're still trying to figure out how to honor what he achieved without glorifying his sins. We're still trying to figure out how we can do that in light of the fact that white supremacists have been using him as a rallying point for a long time. And, while the perfect solution may not exist, many of the ones that have been suggested are founded in love and are making a huge effort to take all voices into consideration.
So, when you, an average person, an outsider looking in, think of Charlottesville, please don't let our legacy be this one really horrible event. Please remember that that is not Charlottesville, not what it is about and not at all a depiction of the people who live there. August 11-12, 2017 might be what comes to mind when you think of our city, but those days do not define who we are and it is my sincere hope that they will not define who we will become in the minds of history.