Radford University is preparing to close its campus Saturday ahead of a student-led protest on racial inequality slated for Saturday afternoon, according to university officials.
University spokesman Justin Ward reiterated Friday morning the university’s stance from earlier this week that The Bigger Picture March will be for faculty, staff and students only. The event will have a police presence.
Ward said the campus is being closed because of the school’s requirements established during the COVID-19 pandemic.
There has been public pushback this week about the rally — which included hateful and racist rhetoric on social media — with some local citizens even making threats to students.
Ward said the logistics for Saturday were created in tandem with law enforcement, including the decision to not let non-members of the campus community on the public school grounds during the event. He did say that while campus access is restricted, people cannot be stopped from being in public areas near the campus.
A call by several people on social media, particularly Jody Pyles — a Radford resident whose Facebook video went viral earlier this week — asked the citizens of Radford to protest the protest.
Pyles asked residents to “show up and make some noise. Let them know that this is not allowed. We’re not going to stand by and watch this Marxist indoctrination happen in our city.”
Some, including one news outlet in Pulaski, incorrectly characterized the event as one sponsored by the Black Lives Matter organization.
The event will feature students marching on the campus and will have speakers talking about the racial issues the Black community regularly faces in the U.S.
The event is being co-sponsored by campus organizations including Diversity Awareness Programming, NAACP, Lady RUs, National Pan-Hellenic Council, Black Student Alliance, and Radford Student Programming and Campus Events.
University officials have said the outdoor event will follow public health guidance, including mandatory face coverings and physical distancing.
Additionally, circles marking the gathering areas will be utilized to ensure individuals are appropriately distancing during the event.
The university is prohibiting members of the media from attending the event. Instead, it will set up a staging area in a parking lot across campus from the site of the rally, and will have students, faculty and staff there before the event for interviews. In an email to Ward Friday, The Roanoke Times objected to the decision to bar access to the main campus, nothing Muse Lawn is a public space at a public university and a gathering place for decades for public events and debates.
In an email response late Friday afternoon, Ward said the university based its decision on COVID-19 measures it has had in place since the campus reopened on July 27. “In an effort to control the exposure to and spread of COVID-19, while protecting and promoting the health and safety of the campus community, the University made a decision to restrict all visitor access on Saturday,” the email stated.
Radford Mayor David Horton has announced “Make a Positive Difference Day” in response to the backlash the event has received from some of the greater Radford and Pulaski communities.
The event asks resident to pick a charity, help a neighbor or to support a cause they believe in that will benefit the community.
“I’m trying to channel the energy into positive things for Saturday instead of negative,” he wrote in a text Thursday afternoon.