The University of Virginia’s president had a strong reaction to Tuesday night’s action by dozens of students and faculty members who covered a statue of Thomas Jefferson, calling him a racist and a rapist.
At just after 8 p.m. Tuesday, about 100 people gathered around the Jefferson statue while three climbed up and draped a black tarp over the University of Virginia’s founder. Protesters then listed a series of demands. They asked UVA to make education about slavery part of its bi-centennial celebration, proposed hiring more black faculty members and admitting more black students. (They make up less than seven percent of enrollment in a state that is nearly 20% African-American. )
They also demanded that white supremacists be banned from campus.
“UVA alumni Jason Kessler and Richard Spencer should be explicitly denounced and banned from grounds," said one speaker. The crowd roared its approval. " UVA’s historical landscape must be rebalanced," said another. "The statue of Jefferson serves as an emblem of white supremacy and should be re-conceptualized with a plaque to include that history.”
UVA President Teresa Sullivan issued a statement to students, faculty and staff, defending the right to express opinions about Jefferson but taking strong personal exception to those views. She pointed out that Jefferson made many contributions to the early American Republic: he served as its third president, championed religious freedom and authored the Declaration of Independence.
Sullivan pointed out UVA had acknowledged its controversial history. A memorial to enslaved laborers will be built on campus, and Sullivan noted the university had just dedicated Pinn Hall in honor of Dr. Vivian Pinn, one of the earliest African-American women to graduate from the medical school and former director of the Women’s Health Initiave at the National Institutes of Health.
In an email to alumni, Sullivan used stronger language – accusing the protesters of “desecrating ground that many of us consider sacred.”