Following a walkout on Mar. 25-26, students organized a #COVIDActionNow town hall on Saturday to advocate for changes in how the University of Virginia has handled the pandemic’s impact on students, staff, and the Charlottesville community.
The town hall was held at the McIntire Amphitheatre and livestreamed on the UVA Beyond Policing Instagram page.
At the town hall, students read out testimonies and grievances about the lack of financial support from UVA. This included the lack of emergency funding, acknowledgement for degree timelines and child care, and compensation for student governance.
According to a press release by Virginia Senator Mark Warner, Virginia tertiary institutions received a total of $846 million, half of which would be distributed to students “in the form of financial aid awards to address hardships caused by COVID-19. The remaining portion of the funds can be used on reopening costs, revenue losses, classroom retrofits, PPE, and other expenses”. Students pointed to UVA’s allocation of funds to demand greater financial support for members of the University community.
Student groups put together a list of demands, including a $1,500 stimulus for all students who qualify for aid with additional funds allocated based on need through applications. Students also advocated for full reimbursements for old loans to reduce the load of student loan interest, as well as a tuition freeze through the 2024-25 school year.
Beyond student demands, the list included emergency funds and hazard pay for contract workers and other essential employees, including custodians, bus drivers, and dining hall employees. A 5% salary increase for all employees after the 2022 fiscal year and an increased minimum wage for all workers was also listed. Students criticized the lack of worker’s voices in university decisions and communication, with many testimonies highlighting the disparities and lack of compensation despite the university’s dependence on these workers.
Last summer, a group of university employees formed the United Campus Workers-Virginia citing “growing dissatisfaction with the university’s repeated sidelining of student and worker input when developing its pandemic response” in a press release.
Students also highlighted how students were supporting each other through the Mutual Aid program. This fully student-run program helps connect students with necessary resources, including food and supplies.
While reflecting on UVA’s COVID regulations, students called the communication of university updates “too little, too late”. They cited UVA’s decision to allow the IFC to have in-person events during the pandemic as justification for the suspension of Greek life in-person events due to the risk to the community and lack of enforcement of social distancing.
Representatives speaking on behalf of Resident Staff also spoke on the lack of proper support and compensation, such as “meal plan increases” tied to financial aid reduction and the lack of PPE with the expectation of rounds. RAs were reportedly listed as a COVID policy resource, despite the lack of clarity and guidelines due to being left out of the loop in policy changes. Other students also brought up the lack of mental health support, especially for students of color, and general feelings of fatigue and burnout.
Lastly, students included a call to action in demanding justice for Xzavier Hill, who was shot and killed by Virginia State Police (VSP), through calling for the VA State Attorney to reopen the case after a grand jury trial ruled that Hill’s death at the hands of the VSP was justified.
A comprehensive list of demands and additional active petitions can be found at #COVIDActionNow.
Editor’s note: This article is a written recap of the livestream that occurred on Mar. 30 and reflects the views of the students who spoke at the town hall.
EDIT (MAR. 31, 3:30PM): We have revised the article to read that Xzavier Hill was shot and killed by the VSP.