Eight West Virginia senators have sent a letter to the president of West Virginia and Marshall universities, taking a different approach from their counterparts who recently suggested those universities’ resources were being used to promote hate speech.
Democrats in the state Senate wrote that they appreciate tough decisions made recently by West Virginia University President Gordon Gee and Marshall President Jerome Gilbert. They’re also inviting students to talk.
“We think this moment requires us not to point fingers, call names and create further division in our state, but instead to listen to one another with compassion in an attempt to find a positive way forward,” the Democratic senators wrote.
Their letter was a response to one sent this month by 17 Republican Senators who objected to “Black Lives Matter” stickers on some West Virginia University football players’ helmets.
That letter also focused on recent comments by a Marshall University professor who told students during a virtual lecture that she hopes all of President Trump‘s supporters contract the coronavirus and die before the November election.
Drawing a connection between the helmet stickers and the professor’s comments, the letter from the Republican senators stated, “These behaviors are inherently disgusting, but the use of law abiding taxpayers’ money against their very country, especially in light of the violence these movements have displayed, is beyond any excuse,” the GOP senators wrote.
They went on to write that the taxpayers in their districts “would rather see those tax dollars returned to them or used for a more honorable purpose.”
Marshall issued a statement to say that it does not condone comments by the biology professor, who has been suspended. The statement said the university will take action after the conclusion of an investigation by the chief academic officer.
WVU said no taxpayer dollars were used for the BLM helmet stickers and that players have worn them voluntarily.
Black Lives Matter refers both to an organization — the Black Lives Matter Global Network — and a broader decentralized movement. The Black Lives Global Network says it is working “for a world where Black lives are no longer systematically targeted for demise.”
But the movement is broader and involves hundreds of locally organized groups.
“It’s important for our fans to know that this helmet sticker is not advocating for any organization or any political stance, violence, rioting, looting or destruction. The sticker is a call for unity, safety and equality,” WVU said in a statement.
The Democratic senators, in their own letter sent this week, proposed a listening session with students. That letter does not specifically mention the one sent earlier by Republican senators.
“In the wake of recent questions raised, we want to begin a positive dialogue between elected officials and your students and student athletes,” the Democratic senators wrote.
“Now more than ever, during a time of racial and political tension in the midst of a public health crisis, we feel it is incumbent on us to listen to our youth. They are our future and will lead us into it.”
That letter was signed by Democratic senators Stephen Baldwin of Greenbrier County, Corey Palumbo of Kanawha County, Bill Ihlenfeld of Ohio County, Richard Lindsay of Kanawha County, Mike Romano of Harrison County, Ron Stollings of Boone County, Mike Woelfel of Cabell County and Bob Beach of Monongalia County.
Baldwin said the letter was meant to recognize current times have political and racial turbulence, as well as anxiety over public health. He said senators wanted to reach out to youth navigating this moment.
“We didn’t want to put thoughts in somebody else’s head, we didn’t want to call anybody names, we didn’t want to make value statements necessarily and tell you what we believe about the situation,” Baldwin said.
“We wanted to instead say maybe this is the time to listen, especially to our young people.”