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Planned Demonstration Near Campus

Friday, March 8, 2019

Dear VCU community,

We recently learned that on March 11, members of the Westboro Baptist Church will protest against diversity and inclusion, two values to which we are strongly committed. We understand their gathering will be very small (about 6-8 people), will last about 30 minutes, and will be conducted on city property adjacent to our Monroe Park campus.

The Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) has a well-documented history of using inflammatory speech against members of the LGBTQIA community, the U.S. military, Catholics, Jews, and Muslims. The Southern Poverty Law Center has called them “arguably the most obnoxious and rabid hate group in America.”

We agree. Their actions and protests are often unconscionable and despicable. They detest what we hold dear: the beautiful diversity of our community, the inclusive commitments we make to each other, and our values of collaboration and integrity. We build engaged and vibrant communities; they strive to entice, provoke, and tear them apart.

Please know that VCU did not invite WBC, nor did anyone from WBC contact us about their plans to demonstrate. They have not reserved space on campus, and we expect them to remain on city property. We are working with the Richmond Police Department and other law enforcement to ensure fully the safety of all members of our community. We expect all demonstrators to do the same.

National media outlets have reported that WBC’s members actively try to incite vehement responses against them. The reports indicate that they finance their disgraceful actions, in part, by baiting counter-protesters into civil claims. They know the law and the lengths to which others will go to oppose them, including violating their constitutional rights to free speech and assembly.

Let’s use this occasion to reinforce the promises we make to each other that VCU will be a welcoming and vibrant home of diversity and inclusion. In the face of hatred, let’s showcase who we are and what we value, including by embracing those members of our community the WBC would rally against.

In that spirit, there are a number of planned celebrations of our diversity and inclusion, including a Unity Day event 9 a.m.-11 a.m. in the Park Plaza on Linden Street near Cabell Library. A list of other events that celebrate diversity occurring on campus is available here.

I appreciate the ways we continually embrace and empower each other to succeed. And I appreciate that what we do here matters enough—and that we are nationally prominent for the commitments we make—that those who hate diversity would choose us as a model to demonstrate against. If “the most rabid hate group in America” chooses us to protest, then we must be doing something right.

Thank you for making VCU an exemplary place for all people. Thank you for continuing to embrace our mission, our core values, and each other.

Michael Rao, Ph.D.
President, VCU and VCU Health System