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Virginia House and Senate launch inquiries into colleges’ responses to student protests

Dozens of Virginia State Police officers face off with protesters at VCU.
Brad Kutner
Radio IQ
Dozens of Virginia State Police officers face off with protesters at VCU.

In addition to passing a budget this week, members of Virginia’s House and Senate launched separate inquiries into how state colleges responded to recent protests on their campuses.

Both bodies announced separate committees to look into the handling of pro-Palestinian protests on campuses after dozens of arrests and the use of chemical irritants made headlines in recent weeks.

Senator Ghazala Hashmi, Chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Higher Education, will head that chamber’s effort.

“We are really finding out what really happened, who made policy decisions, when were those policy decisions actually made and what the chain of authority has been,” Hashmi said.

In the House, a letter was read from the chamber floor Monday which announced a bipartisan select committee. It directs the House clerk’s office to assist with “technical and policy support.”

Both chambers promised committee meetings this summer. Hashmi said she hopes to invite college administrators as well as community members and students who were impacted by recent conflicts.

Senator Lashrecse Aird stood with Hashmi Tuesday when the Senate effort was announced. Aird said the legislature had an obligation to respond considering the Commonwealth's history with dissent on campus and the likelihood that such dissent will manifest again in the future.

“We need to ask these questions, to go on this fact-finding mission, so as Senator Hashmi said, we can respond as a Commonwealth,” Aird said.

Those expecting a January 6th Committee-style investigation may want to temper their expectations. Hashmi said she was unaware of any subpoena power granted to legislators, meaning they likely couldn’t force responses from those who refuse to participate.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Brad Kutner is Radio IQ's reporter in Richmond.