A white University of Virginia alumna has claimed a former schoolmate and well-known Black social justice activist led a “mob” that “ruined” her life. Now she has prepared a draft lawsuit against UVa and university officials, claiming they did not do enough to protect her.
Morgan Bettinger was called a Karen, attacked on social media, tried before the student-run University Judiciary Committee, expelled in abeyance, investigated by the UVa Office for Equal Opportunity and Civil Rights and — while the last investigation did not find her guilty — has said she has had to live in a state of limbo since.
The start of all that trouble was July 17, 2020, when Bettinger’s schoolmate and Charlottesville native Zyahna Bryant was participating in a Black Women Matter protest organized by Charlottesville Beyond Policing.
According to Bryant’s account, Bettinger arrived at the protest and “told us that we would make ‘good speedbumps.’” Bryant shared video footage of the moments after the alleged incident on Twitter, led an email campaign urging students to “demand that Morgan face consequences for her actions and that UVA stop graduating racists” and filed a formal complaint with the UJC.
The UJC found Bettinger guilty of “threatening the health or safety of students.” She was expelled in abeyance — which allowed her to continue her schooling but with a demerit in her file — and instructed to perform 50 hours of community service, meet with public policy professor Brian Williams to “discuss the history of police-community relations” and write an apology letter to Bryant.
According to Bettinger’s account, when she encountered the protest she told a truck driver blocking the road, “It’s a good thing that you are here, because otherwise these people would have been speed bumps.” Bettinger is the daughter of a policeman, who died of cancer in 2014, and is admittedly pro-police, but she says she was misheard by protesters and taken out of context.
An inquiry conducted by UVa’s EOCR would find that Bettinger’s narrative was the more likely case and that her remarks, whatever they were, were “not clearly threatening on its face.”
In an interview with libertarian magazine Reason, Bettinger said that despite the EOCR decision, the UJC’s expulsion in abeyance had become a permanent stain on her record.
“The permanent record of her disciplinary violation will interfere with her later opportunities for higher education and employment,” according to a draft lawsuit Bettinger has filed against UVa President Jim Ryan and the school’s governing Board of Visitors.
Bettinger has asked Ryan to expunge her record, but he has declined.
Board of Visitors policy instills the university president “with the power to impose appropriate penalties including expulsion.”
But precedence says otherwise.
“Our system of student self-governance gives this important authority to students, who apply facts to law in the course of adjudicating allegations of misconduct,” Ryan wrote in a response to Bettinger. “The President of the University does not have the authority to reverse the final outcome of the disciplinary process, and there is no precedent for the President claiming this authority.”
The university has gone further. A statement from UVa spokesman Brian Coy defended the UJC and said the judiciary committee received “legally accurate” instructions about free speech and “applied that correct standard” to the evidence presented during Bettinger’s hearing.
“A University evaluation of this case determined that Ms. Bettinger received a fair hearing and review by both the UJC and the Judicial Review Board (‘JRB’), a panel of students, faculty, and staff unaffiliated with the UJC who are tasked with hearing appeals of UJC cases,” Coy told The Daily Progress. “Under our system of student self-governance, students rely on their peers to reach a conclusion after directly hearing the evidence and testimony in these student conduct matters.”
Unsatisfied with the university response, Bettinger’s lawsuit requests the school issue an apology, award her damages for the emotional pain caused and harm to her reputation, expunge and destroy the records of her UJC trial and revise the UJC’s procedures to be in line with constitutional due process standards.
Although Bryant’s complaints are a critical part of her complaint and her name appears more than 100 times in her draft lawsuit against the school, Bryant is not named as a defendant.
Bryant, typically an outspoken figure at the local and national level, declined to comment to The Daily Progress.
Bettinger, who told Reason she stays off the grid out of fear of being harassed, could not be reached for comment.
Charles “Buddy” Weber, Bettinger’s attorney and a prominent Republican figure in Charlottesville, did not respond to multiple requests for comment from The Daily Progress.
In an ironic twist, after the publication of Bettinger’s interview with Reason in late April, now Bryant is facing backlash on social media.
Anonymous Twitter users are calling Bryant “a liar and race hustler” who “destroyed a woman’s life with a lie in order to sew more division in attempt to further her race baiting career.”
Three years ago, it was an anonymous Twitter user that wrote “Good morning everyone but Albemarle High grad, UVA student and daughter of a cop, Morgan Alyse Bettinger, who threatened protestors in Charlottesville last night by saying from her blue Subaru that we’d ‘make good speed bumps” — likely the first tweet to identify Bettinger by name in relation to the incident.
Reason writer and editor Emma Camp, also a fellow UVa graduate, said Bryant “has thrived since the incident” while Bettinger “lives in a state of limbo.”
Meanwhile, local groups tied to Bryant and her causes have rushed to her defense.
Hate-Free Schools Coalition of Albemarle County, Showing Up for Racial Justice-Charlottesville, Charlottesville Beyond Policing and Congregate Charlottesville issued a joint statement supporting Bryant on April 29 rejecting the alleged “attacks on her integrity from right-wing media outlets pushing a familiar mythology of white grievance and victimization.”
“Zyahna has been thriving,” local organizations wrote in their joint statement. “Yet, the Reason article is desperate to frame that success as a negative. They do so by rehashing a common and insidious narrative of the right wing: a fictionalized story of white grievance and victimization whose goal is perpetuating the dangerous movement to ‘take back’ universities for conservative white students.”