How Social Media Led to UVA President’s Reinstatement
Shock waves were felt throughout Charlottesville on Sunday, June 10th when Rector Helen Dragas sent a vague email informing Jefferson’s University that Teresa Sullivan would step down from her position as President of the University of Virginia.
As a member of the University of Virginia community still living and working in Charlottesville, I felt the immediate punch packed by Dragas’ email. Outrage, confusion, and doubt pulsated throughout grounds. I quickly turned to where I get much of my information–my Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts–to spread the word of the startling news surrounding U.Va.
Photo: The Washington Post
Outstanding numbers of students, faculty and community members did the same. In conjunction with rallies, protests, and silent vigils held on the lawn, supporters of the University of Virginia made their presence known and recognized online. The issue went viral of social media sites within hours.
Photo: I Am U.Va.
Numerous blogs and forums were created with the sole intent of creating an outlet for opinions surrounding the ouster of Sullivan to be voiced. Through these personal blogs, people were able to post images, letters of concern, and links to other news sources so that those viewing the site could access as much information and coverage about the Sullivan scandal as possible.
The overwhelming backing of Teresa Sullivan was conveyed through Facebook as well, with supporters posting videos of statements made by Senate Faculty members, pictures of the events taking place on the lawn, and statuses voicing disdain for the lack of transparency shown by the Board of Visitors.
Photo: Dennis G. Jerz
Protestors also took to Twitter to make a difference. In the days leading up to the Board of Visitor’s unanimous vote to reinstate Sullivan on Tuesday the 26th, #UVA and #Sullivan were among some of the top trends on Twitter- illustrative of the major social media push made by motivated members of the U.Va. community, both in Charlottesville and across the nation.
So what kind of impact did social media have on the final decision to reinstate Sullivan?
Social media allowed for students, alumni, and community members dispersed around the country and the globe to express their disapproval of the Board of Visitors actions that led up to Sullivan’s resignation. The news went national within hours of the first email due to backlash via social media. By being brought to light so quickly, members of the Charlottesville and U.Va. community throughout the nation and globe were able to voice their opinions. This was even exemplified symbolically; many who were unable to be in Charlottesville, VA showed their support through photos displayed on the lawn.
Photo: I Am U.Va.
For those who were in or near Charlottesville the issue became increasingly visible online, which in turn encouraged people to attend events on the lawn and express their own sentiments about the ouster. People became more informed from people they know, trust, and identify with, making the decision made by the Board of Visitors more personal than ever. They were able to communicate and have their voices heard through social media channels.
Without such use of social media tools, individuals wouldn’t have been able to make their opinions known to so many. In sum, the overall effect that social media has had on reinstatement of President Sullivan is the overwhelming wave of support and solidarity- the people holding the University accountable and expecting nothing less than the implementation of the honor and values instilled by Mr. Jefferson.