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UVA President and Students Respond to Covering of Jefferson Statue

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Protesters on Tuesday, Sept. 12 Protesters on Tuesday, Sept. 12
Jefferson statue at UVA in front of the Rotunda Jefferson statue at UVA in front of the Rotunda
File Photo:  UVA President Teresa Sullivan File Photo: UVA President Teresa Sullivan
Brian Lambert being arrested 9/12, photo courtesy of UVA activist group Brian Lambert being arrested 9/12, photo courtesy of UVA activist group
John Miska and others remove tarp covering Jefferson statue. photo courtesy of UVA activist group John Miska and others remove tarp covering Jefferson statue. photo courtesy of UVA activist group
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) -

The shroud covering the Thomas Jefferson statue at the University of Virginia is gone, but controversy over Tuesday night's protest rages on.

On the night of Tuesday, September 12, protesters gathered at the University of Virginia and shrouded the statue of Thomas Jefferson to denounce white supremacy. 

In a press release issued on Wednesday, September 13, UVA President Teresa Sullivan says she strongly disagrees with the demonstrators' actions but recognizes there is more work to be done to make the school more inclusive. The full press release is below.

This protest marked one month since the August 12 Unite the Right rally that took place in downtown Charlottesville.

This time, the protest was put on by a group of UVA students, faculty, and members of the Charlottesville community who have a list of demands from the university. 

Protesters numbered around 100 and turned out with Black Lives Matter signs around 8 p.m. on Tuesday. The group used a tarp to cover the statue of Thomas Jefferson that sits in front of the UVA Rotunda.

Three people were on the statue and a sign on top of the covering read: "TJ is a racist and rapist."

On the ground, members in the group read a list of demands which included removing the Confederate plaques on the Rotunda and banning white supremacist hate groups from grounds, calling out UVA alumni Jason Kessler and Richard Spencer specifically. 

Spencer and Kessler were organizers involved in white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville this summer.

Students involved say that the list of demands currently stands at 12 items that deal with how to make the University of Virginia more inclusive. One item calls for the university to place plaques around the Jefferson statue contextualizing his legacy and reminding people that he was a slave-owner.

They feel that the university currently only acknowledges the good parts of Jefferson's legacy.

"We thought that shrouding Thomas Jefferson would be great symbolic action to address the fact that white supremacists saw that statue as a rallying point on the 11th," says Ken King, a fourth-year student who participated in the shrouding.

In regards to Sullivan's response, the group UVA Students United says it made them feel unsupported and slandered.

"The implications of the email were that we were a bunch of rowdy students who were drunk and decided to shroud the statue when in reality the person who was arrested is affiliated with white supremacists groups. We were there with community members, with...my parents were there, we were a put together group who were very intentional about what we did," Caroline in UVA Students United said. 

The student went on to say she thinks Sullivan's email was "very divisive."

Sullivan says the university is trying to acknowledge this part of Jefferson's history.

The group's list of demands will be presented to the Board of Visitors meeting on Friday. Student protesters say they are not satisfied with Sullivan's response and they will only be satisfied if their demands are taken seriously.

Both Republicans and Democrats are speaking out about what happened to the Jefferson statue. including united states senator tim kaine.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) weighed in, saying, 

"I don't think there's a way to erase Jefferson's legacy from the University of Virginia because you wouldn't have a university without Thomas Jefferson, but I think the university is doing some good listening and it needs to continue to do that and I'm sure it'll find the answer that continues to tell the story of who this university is and Thomas Jefferson's role in it."

Republican Party of Virginia Chairman John Whitbeck issued the following statement:

"The vandalism of the Thomas Jefferson statue at the University of Virginia is the next step in the extreme left's movement to erase our history.  The defacing of our historical monuments is not free speech, it is a criminal offense, plain and simple."

University of Virginia Press Release:

Members of the University Community:

Last night, several members of the University and Charlottesville communities held a protest at the Thomas Jefferson statue located north of the Rotunda, and several protestors covered the Jefferson statue in a black shroud.  We have since removed the cover. One person was arrested for public intoxication.

I strongly disagree with the protestors’ decision to cover the Jefferson statue. I also recognize the rights of those present at the protest to express their emotions and opinions regarding the recent horrific events that occurred on our Grounds and in Charlottesville.

Our community continues to heal, and we must remain respectful of one another if substantive progress can be made on addressing the many challenges and opportunities that we all face.

The University’s founder, Thomas Jefferson, made many contributions to the progress of the early American Republic: he served as the third President of the United States, championed religious freedom, and authored the Declaration of Independence.

In apparent contradiction to his persuasive arguments for liberty and human rights, however, he was also a slave owner. In its early days the University of Virginia was dependent upon the institution of slavery.

Enslaved people not only built its buildings, but also served in a wide variety of capacities for UVA’s first fifty years of existence. After gaining freedom, African Americans continued to work for the University, but they were not allowed to enroll as students until the mid-twentieth century.

The University has acknowledged its controversial history and we continue to learn from it through open dialogue and civil discourse.  

In 2013, I formed the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University to explore UVA's relationship to slavery and enslaved people and to make recommendations for steps UVA can take in response to this history.

The Memorial to Enslaved Laborers that the Board of Visitors approved this past June is another example of how the University is reconciling its past with its aspirations for a more inclusive, diverse environment.

Recent gains in enrolling students from under-represented groups and recruiting a more diverse faculty are also testament to our commitment to be a more diverse University. 

Today, the University will formally dedicate Pinn Hall in honor of Vivian W. Pinn, M.D., one of the earliest African-American women to graduate from the School of Medicine and a former director of the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Research on Women’s Health.

Later this week, the Board of Visitors will also discuss honoring W.W. Yen, the first student from China to graduate from the University of Virginia, and the first international student to receive a Bachelor of Arts degree from UVA, with a building name. 

There is more work to be done, and I look forward to members of our community coming together and recommitting to our foundational values of honor, integrity, trust and respect.
 
Teresa A. Sullivan
President

Release from UVA Student Activist Group Regarding Sullivan's Response:

Teresa Sullivan’s emails to UVa students and alumni regarding the Sept 12th protest are abhorrent and dangerously misleading. It is incredibly irresponsible for our University president to leave out key details in relaying her flawed understanding of the protest. Below please find an account of what REALLY happened that night from students who were actually there, and not across the street like President Sullivan.

1. Sullivan: “Last night about forty students held a demonstration on the north side of the Rotunda.”

It was not only students. There were dozens of faculty there in support, along with Charlottesville community activists and clergy members.

2. Sullivan: “University personnel removed the shroud.”

The shroud was removed by a man who was assisted by local resident John Miska, who also attempted to removed the shroud on the Lee statue. Miska and his UVA student friends are NOT “University personnel,” as evidenced by his statements on Facebook.

3. Sullivan: “One person was arrested for public intoxication.”

The person arrested is Brian Lambert, a known white supremacist and associate of Jason Kessler. He was arrested for being armed and intoxicated. It is abhorrent of Sullivan to leave out this necessary context and insinuate that it was one of the student protesters who was intoxicated.

4. Sullivan: “Coming just one month after the August 11 torchlight march by 300 racist and anti-Semitic protesters, a march that became violent, this event has reminded us that there are critical and sometimes divisive issues related to the exercise of free expression in an inclusive community.”

THIS IS A FALSE EQUIVALENCE. The events of September 12th and the events of August 11th are NOT comparable in terms of scale, violence, hate, and intimidation. It is irresponsible to equate the peaceful protest on September 12th with the violence of the 300 neo-Nazis on August 11th. Additionally, the August 11th march did not suddenly “become” violent, it was always violent. And every act of violence was instigated by the white supremacists who were marching, which included beating and burning counter-protesters with tiki torches and pepper-spraying them. Sullivan has NEVER acknowledged the bravery and moral fortitude of the students, alumni, faculty, and community who stood up to hate on our Grounds on August 11th.

5. Sullivan: “they shrouded the Jefferson statue, desecrating ground that many of us consider sacred.”

Sullivan stated peaceful protesters were “desecrating” sacred ground but did not say the same of the 300 neo-Nazis and white supremacists who terrorized UVa Grounds and assaulted those in opposition to them.

These are the REAL facts of the situation.

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