UVA president Teresa Sullivan said in a statement sent to alumni today that she “strongly disagree(s)” with the decision of a group of protesters to cover a statue of Thomas Jefferson on Grounds Tuesday night.
A group of about 100 students, faculty and community members held a rally at the statue to mark the one-month anniversary of the Aug. 12 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville that resulted in three deaths and scores of injuries.
One night earlier, a group of white nationalists marched on the UVA Grounds with torches and confronted a group of students and faculty counter-protesters at the same Jefferson statue, with several among the counter-protesters, outnumbered in the exchange, suffering injuries.
Last night’s rally featured a speaker who decried Jefferson, the founder of the University of Virginia, the nation’s third president and the author of the Declaration of Independence, as “a rapist, racist and slave owner,” and in addition to the tarp, signs were placed on the statue proclaiming Jefferson to be a “racist” and “rapist.”
Sullivan’s full statement:
“Last night about forty students held a demonstration on the north side of the Rotunda and as part of this demonstration, they shrouded the Jefferson statue, desecrating ground that many of us consider sacred. I strongly disagree with the protesters’ decision to cover the Jefferson statue. University personnel removed the shroud. One person was arrested for public intoxication. These are the facts of the situation, regardless of what you may read in media accounts of those who have their own agenda.
“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.
“I would like to frame this issue somewhat differently. Thomas Jefferson was an ardent believer in freedom of expression, and he experienced plenty of abusive treatment from the newspapers of his day. He would likely not be surprised to find that when there are critical disagreements in the polity, those disagreements will find expression at his University. UVA’s importance as a university is underscored by the fact that arguments about free expression, hate speech, and similar issues occur here. Sometimes these arguments are noisy.
“In your own college days, many of you experienced protests and activism at UVA. The war in Vietnam, Watergate, 9/11, and many other issues have been discussed, debated, and protested at UVA. We are at another such point. I prefer the process of discussion and debate, and the debate is happening here at UVA with a wide variety of guest speakers, panels, and other opportunities to look at underlying issues. That there is also activism should not be a surprise to any of us.”