University of Virginia freshman express anxiety as their school year starts -- keep yourself and your friends safe and 'pray for the best'

College campuses are abuzz with excitement during the first few weeks of school, as freshman embark on a journey to make new friends, browse course catalogues, and explore a new city.

But incoming freshman to the University of Virginia (UVA) are still grappling with the images of white supremacists marching on their soon-to-be-new campus and violently clashing with community members.

“It was very scary to see a mob of protesters marching on campus with torches, a car driving into a crowd and killing a person,” Yasmeen Refai, an 18-year-old incoming freshman to UVA, told Business Insider. “It was a little scary to think that I’d be there in a couple days as well.”

Refai, a Muslim American from Vienna, Virginia, said the events of last weekend have put a damper on the start of the school year.

“Those are scars that are going to be there,” she said, referencing the images she saw of neo-Nazis and white nationalists close to her new home.

More than 4,000 new freshman move onto UVA’s Charlottesville, Virginia campus on Saturday, just a week after a “Unite the Right” rally erupted into violence and left three people dead.

“I am a little scared in terms of going downtown,” Avery, an African American incoming freshman who asked to be identified by only his first name, told Business Insider.

Last Saturday, supporters of the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis marched around Charlottesville chanting “Blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us.”

Avery said he’s still processing what happened last weekend, but is motivated by a desire to prove himself as an African American male studying at one of the top universities in the nation.

Incoming freshman Chirag Kulkarni spoke of the collective reckoning of the UVA class of 2021.

“What happened was tragic and horrific and it really shook the core of our freshman class,” Kulkarni told Business Insider.

Kulkarni, an Indian American from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, said his parents were very worried following the protest and discussed alternatives to sending him to UVA, like taking a gap year or transferring to another school.

He said that the reaction of his classmates steadied him. Students have formed group chats to discuss solutions for recovering as a community, according to Kulkarni, who said that students of all races were impacted by the rally.

“While maybe I was a bit worried at first being a student of colour, once I saw that it kind of alleviated some of my fears,” he said.

Refai, Avery, and Kulkarni all affirmed their decision to attend UVA, and said overall, they feel a sense of security in the way UVA administrators have communicated with them.

But that doesn’t mean that UVA students aren’t wrestling with additional anxieties related to the protests.

“I don’t doubt my decision to go there,” Refai said, before adding, “You just need to be aware of your surroundings, and keep yourself and friends and students all safe, and pray for the best.”

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