Hemphill Supports Students Marching for BLM Among COVID-19 Restrictions

3 min read Radford University President Brian Hemphill sends open letter to students supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.

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Photo Credit: (Radford University Relations) Radford University's President Brian Hemphill said, "I look forward to joining with our passionate students as part of The Bigger Picture March and Rally."

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By Riley Ginger & McKenzie Lewis | rginger@radford.edu & mlewis99@radford.edu

Radford University’s President Brian O. Hemphill sent out an open letter to students, noting he stands with the Black Lives Matter movement and supports students participating in The Bigger Picture March and Rally, the morning of Monday, Sept. 14. In doing this, he received criticism from Senator Amanda Chase.

“I am asking members of Highlander nation to pledge in serving as active and vocal participants by advocating for equality and fairness now and well into the future,” President Hemphill said. “I look forward to joining with our passionate students as part of The Bigger Picture March and Rally to be held on the afternoon of Sept. 19, 2020.”

This email is coming after the University’s recent restrictions when it comes to students gathering in large crowds. The University allows no more than 10 people per gathering, as reminded in an email sent out by President Hemphill Sept. 10, 2020.

“I am asking members of Highlander nation to pledge in serving as active and vocal participants by advocating for equality and fairness now and well into the future,” President Hemphill said.

According to the City of Radford, the 50 person limit on gatherings is extended to Nov. 2 at midnight.

The notion from President Hemphill to participate in the march on Saturday has been met with criticism.

In light of this decision, Senator Amanda Chase commented in a Facebook post with a screenshot of President Hemphill’s letter, stating, “Despite the city’s ordinance that clearly prohibits the assembly of any gatherings of more than 50 people and the rising numbers of COVID on the RU campus, he is asking these impressionable minds to follow this Marxist led movement because of his personal beliefs!”

Senator Chase went on to call the Black Lives Matter movement racist and said she had plans to defund “any university that participated in such behavior” under her administration.

In response to Senator Chase’s post, Caitlyn Scaggs, Associate Vice President for University Relations, responded in place of President Hemphill, saying his message “did not encourage, recommend, or require any individuals to participate in the upcoming student-led and student-organized event.”

Poster for a march
Photo Credit: (The Bigger Picture) The march will take place Saturday, Sept. 19 starting on Muse Lawn.

The University will not take away the students’ right to conduct the march and rally for reasons stated under the University’s Free Expression Policy.

Scaggs continued by saying the event is student-led, but the University is helping the leaders make sure they are following local and state guidelines for the COVID-19 pandemic.

The outdoor event will follow public health guidance, including mandatory face coverings and physical distancing,” Scaggs said. “The President’s communication was sent to demonstrate his support for the students and share information about his individual experiences.  As the leader of a student-centered institution, President Hemphill will participate in the student-led and student-organized event in order to show his support for the students.”

“As a University President, I am dedicated to empowering others. As a father, I am concerned about the significant and lasting impact on current and future generations,” President Hemphill said.

President Hemphill shared his experiences with discrimination as an African American in his email.

“As a University President, I am dedicated to empowering others. As a father, I am concerned about the significant and lasting impact on current and future generations,” President Hemphill said.

He also praised students for supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, stating, “As a Radford family, we cannot allow others to define who we are, what we stand for, and how we respond. As such, I applaud those who have faithfully supported Black Lives Matter in sharing a peaceful and powerful message for change, as well as hope!”

In related news, McConnell Library is hoping to preserve parts of COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter for future generations.