Bettinger v. Clement, et al.

July 2020
University of Virginia (Public college or university)
Charlottesville, Virginia

Identity of Speakers

  • Morgan Bettinger

  • Zyahna Bryant

Additional Information

  • Incident Nature:
    Rally or protest
  • Incident Political Orientation:
    Not Clear
  • Incident Responses:
    University investigation issuing in sanctions
    University investigation not issuing in sanctions
  • Incident Status:
  • Was Speech Code incident


On July 17, 2020, Morgan Bettinger, then a student at the University of Virginia, was driving home from work when she was stopped by a dump truck that was blocking the road. Bettinger exited her vehicle to ask the truck driver what was going on, and the driver responded that he was protecting Black Women Matter protestors from oncoming traffic.

At this point the accounts begin to diverge. According to Bettinger, she quipped to the driver something to the effect of “[i]t’s a good thing you’re here, because otherwise these people would have been speed bumps.” Zyahna Bryant, a local activist who had helped organize the protest, instead claimed that she heard Bettinger say that the protestors “would make good speed bumps.” The truck driver confirmed that he had a brief conversation with Bettinger but that he was unable to hear precisely what she said due to the sound of the truck’s engine.

Regardless of the truth, Bryant soon got to work. After Bettinger had exited the area, Bryant posted a photograph on social media with a caption stating that “[t]he woman in this truck approached protesters in Charlottesville and told us that we would make ‘good speed bumps.’” That post quickly went viral. The next day, Bryant tweeted “EMAIL these UVA deans now to demand that Morgan face consequences for her actions and that UVA stop graduating racists.” At that point, Bryant also filed a complaint with the University Judiciary Committee (UJC), alleging that Bettinger had somehow threatened students’ health and safety. She also filed a complaint with the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Civil Rights (EOCR), alleging that Bettinger had harassed her on the basis of her race.

The UJC investigation found her guilty of “threatening the health or safety” of students and she was expelled in abeyance, alongside other sanctions. However, according to Bettinger and her lawyer, several of Bryant’s own witnesses had offered highly inconsistent testimony. Moreover, according to the paragraph read to Bettinger at trial, the UJC jury did not even dispute Bettinger’s version of what had transpired. Yet, it still punished her.

Bettinger would soon have her vindication, however. As she was appealing her UJC verdict and attempting to finish her senior year, the EOCR finished their investigation, and its findings revealed just how shaky Bryant’s allegations were.

The EOCR report found that three out of Bryant’s four allegations were not corroborated by any other witness. In fact, the only allegation that was even supported by evidence, the claim that Bettinger used the term “speed bumps” while talking to the truck driver, was the only allegation that Bettinger did not even deny. Moreover, the report also found that Bryant twice made an allegation, then later claimed she heard something else or that she was not sure if she had even heard anything. Perhaps most strikingly, the EOCR found that it was more likely than not that Bryant had not even heard Bettinger’s comment firsthand but instead had overheard it from a third-party. Based on this evidence, the EOCR found that Bettinger was not guilty of the charges that the UJC had expelled her for. However, the stain on her disciplinary record remained.

Based on the EOCR report, Bettinger’s lawyer asked Uva’s president, Jim Ryan, to expunge the UJC’s sanctions. However, Ryan refused, claiming that Bettinger had received a fair hearing and review. Bettinger then sued Ryan, the University’s Board of Visitors, and the former Dean of Students for violating her free speech rights by permitting and assisting in her sanctions.

In February 2024, Bettinger settled her lawsuit against the University. Although the details have not been publicized, a University spokesperson stated that the lawsuit “was resolved by a mutual and amicable agreement and dismissed following a joint motion by both parties.”