Recent Hun graduate Adam Wijaya ’18 watched a documentary in his Literature and Social Change class last fall about the white nationalists’ protests that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. He was so affected that he decided to travel to Charlottesville himself to interview residents about the events that unfolded.
The four-day trip was Adam’s Senior Capstone Project, entitled Charlottesville, the KKK, and a Divided America. Every Hun School senior designs an individual Capstone experience in which they choose a topic, research it, and present a summation to teachers and fellow students. Adam was head of the School’s Politicians’ Club, where he said, “we talked about issues in a safe space.” Therefore, a project on Charlottesville was a natural choice.
On August 11th, 2017, white nationalists marched in Charlottesville, home of the University of Virginia (UVA). Carrying torches, they protested the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. Met with counter-protestors on August 12th, a white nationalist drove his car into a crowd, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring nineteen others.
On his trip in May, Adam interviewed shopkeepers, students, and employees of UVA. In one of his first journalistic lessons, Adam said none wanted their last names used and only five would be photographed. Adam asked his subjects questions such as what caused hate speech and if we, as a society, are making progress in combatting it.
UVA juniors Liam and Johnny agreed to be interviewed. “They were both on campus during the protests,” said Adam. “And they both talked about never having seen so much hatred at one time.” The students added that fear of others seems to be at an “epidemic” level these days, contributing to such heated speech.
Other comments Adam heard were from a Charlottesville shopkeeper who felt a current climate of incivility in national discourse had contributed to the protests. A UVA security guard named Gordon told Adam that “hate speech has always been a problem; it just came to light with the rally.” He said there was an inherent tension between UVA students and surrounding, poorer communities. And UVA librarian Kathy said she was “impressed by how quickly the UVA students came together,” both in their counter-protest and in comforting each other, in the aftermath.
Adam, who plans to study economics and politics at Hamilton College in the fall, said he was attracted to the topic, at least in part, due to his own biracial background. (His father is from Sri Lanka; his mother is white, and was born in the United States.)
He said the international, inclusive atmosphere at Hun makes it a great place to go to school, and that the protests in Charlottesville offered a stark contrast.
“I loved going to school here with classmates from other countries,” Adam said. “Hun does a great job of including everyone, but in other places, you don’t necessarily see that.”
Senior Capstone at The Hun School
All Hun School seniors participate in a self-directed Capstone Experience, a two-week experiential learning project that can include an internship, an exploratory trip, or a build phase. Well in advance of their senior spring, students select a field or topic of interest and submit a proposal to the Capstone Committee. Working with an advisor and outside mentor, they participate in the experience and then present their Capstones to Hun School students and faculty.