Brandishing a torch and Arkansas Engineering T-shirt, a former UA student appeared in a viral photo at the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia Aug. 11. Miles away in Arkansas, a mistakenly identified assistant professor later received angry phone calls and texts in retaliation.
Various social media users claimed the man in the photo was Kyle Quinn, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering, and accused him of being a racist.
Quinn had spent the evening of Aug. 11 in Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, perusing the Dale Chihuly exhibit, he said in an email. He tweeted his initial response Aug. 12, and the UofA, the UA College of Engineering and Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz also tweeted to confirm Quinn did not attend the rally.
“It was important that people understand (we don’t value violence and hate), because the impression that you get is that the person that’s in that T-shirt is somehow representing the university,” Steinmetz said.
“I tweeted out and responded before we even knew who the person was because to me, it isn’t a value of the university at all.”
The same evening of his response, Quinn and his wife decided to leave their home and stay with friends because his address had been disclosed on Instagram, he said. Quinn continued to tweet in the following days to say he “promotes a diverse environment” at the UofA and to thank those who supported him.
Once news spread identifying the man in the photo as former UA student Andrew Dodson, the rumors and messages decreased, Quinn said.
Dodson did not know the rally would involve Nazi and Ku Klux Klan affiliations, he said. He attended to protest the removal of the Gen. Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville.
“I did not go there to celebrate racism … Where I come from, you don’t deface someone’s grave or memorial,” Dodson said. “It doesn’t matter what side they’re on.”
Dodson agrees with what President Donald Trump said about the event, he said.
“You had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on another side that was also very violent,” Trump said in a press conference.
Following the rally, Dodson lost his job. Quinn will continue to teach at the UofA and work in the lab as usual, he said.
Senior Terrian Tyler, a member of the UA National Society of Black Engineers, saw the rally photos but heard about the controversy involving the UofA through texts and calls from friends, he said.
“They were making my phone just blow up,” Tyler said. “And then I talked to some of the staff in the College of Engineering, and they were definitely going through it as well. I was like, ‘This is terrible. What can we do?’”
One of his friends, UA alumnus Jakym Battle, suggested gathering students for a photoshoot to release a photo with a positive representation of the engineering college, Tyler said. Tyler and Battle began planning the photoshoot Tuesday after the rally, and by Wednesday, numerous students, faculty and staff joined in to support the effort.
“If one photo can make all this happen, maybe another photo can basically offset this and do something better,” Tyler said.
The image posted by the UA American Indian Science and Engineering Society received 497 shares on Facebook and 156 retweets on Twitter as of Aug. 22. The UA National Society of Black Engineers also shared the photo on Instagram and received over 100 likes.
“I wanted to show them that we actually do have a ton of diversity out here,” Tyler said. “In addition to that, not only do we have a ton of diverse individuals, but we can all work together.”
The experience proved eye opening to Steinmetz, he said.
“It showed me the power of social media,” Steinmetz said. “If you want an example of that power, that whole incident demonstrated that.”