Removal of the Thomas Jefferson Sculpture at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York

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TW// mentions of slavery, rape, eugenics, anti-black racism.

The Sondra and David S. Mack Student Center is one of the central points for on-campus life and student activities.  


The Student Center houses several important offices and resources, including Intercultural Engagement and Inclusion, Student Access Services, the Office of Student Advocacy and Prevention Awareness, and the Dean of Students Office. Students daily walk through the Student Center for a quick cup of coffee or to cross the Unispan to get to class.


For prospective students, this is one of the first buildings that they walk into when touring the university. At almost every single Admitted Students Day, families pose in front of the Student Center to take photos and share hugs and smiles after successful college visits.


It is unfortunate then that a bronze sculpture of a 71-year-old Thomas Jefferson, gifted to the university by Hofstra Trustee David Mack, is right in front of the Student Center.


Regarding this sculpture, Hofstra University Museum’s website reads, “...one of Hofstra’s first architects credited Jefferson as one of his influences, as represented by the ‘quadrangle and great lawn’ between Hauser Hall, Memorial Hall and the Adams Playhouse, and Memorial Quad between Hofstra Hall, Calkins Hall, Brower Hall and Barnard Hall. Hofstra has continued the tradition of the quadrangle all over the campus.”


While Jefferson’s architectural designs have gone on to inspire the designs of many American universities, Jefferson’s values aided in the construction of institutionalized racism and justified the subjugation of black people in the United States.


Jefferson owned nearly 600 slaves in his lifetime, proudly embraced eugenics and raped countless enslaved black women and children and forced them to deliver his biological children.


After the death of Jefferson’s father-in-lawn in 1773, Jefferson inherited 11,000 acres of estate and 125 slaves. When he died in 1826, he had acquired approximately 600 slaves.


Jefferson raped many of his slaves and forced them to bear his biological children. Jefferson’s most famous victim is Sally Hemings. Hemings was only fourteen or fifteen when Jefferson first raped her and impregnated her with the first of five children.


In 1998, a DNA study found a match between the Jefferson male line and a descendant of Hemings’ youngest son, confirming the terror the Hemings family endured.


Jefferson embraced eugenics, citing that black people were genetically inferior in a number of his writings and speeches. Jefferson believed that Africans should be submitted to scientific analysis, including the “anatomical knife”, to confirm their inferiority.


Justifying enslavement Jefferson explained, “It is not their condition, but nature...which has produced the distinction” between the slave and the slave master.  He went on to write, “...besides differences in color and hair, black people secreted less by the kidneys and more by the glands of the skin, which gives them a very strong and disagreeable odor“.


In response to slave revolts in Haiti, Jefferson implicitly suggested a complete genocide of enslaved Africans, writing “if something is not done and soon done, we shall be the murderers of our own children”.

 

It is for these reasons that a sculpture honoring Thomas Jefferson should not be displayed on Hofstra University’s campus.


Jefferson has been embraced as an icon by white supremacist and neo-nazi organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan and online white supremacist chat rooms such as Storm Front and Daily Stormer, a website domestic terrorist Dylann Roof actively used before committing a mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina in December of 2015.


A sculpture like this belongs in a museum or archive with appropriate context, not displayed on a college campus, especially not in front of a hub of student life.


I, Ja’Loni Owens, and the individuals who choose to sign this petition call on the administrators of Hofstra University to remove the sculpture of Thomas Jefferson from in front of the Student Center and to no longer display it on campus.



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