Remove the Statue of Thomas Jefferson from Campus

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My Panel Statement on April 4th Hosted by The Kinder Institute on Constitutional Democracy at the University of Missouri, Columbia

The need to project a progressive environment is just as important as food and shelter to survive. A welcoming environment does not stop at the feet of individuals in particular spaces. A welcoming environment is also determined by its physical environment e.g., the use of artifacts in designated spaces. Some individuals may not see Thomas Jefferson’s statue in the quad as a form of oppression, but in higher education settings where highly conscious students are present, it is relatively easy to see and read such nonverbal messages.

Burgoon, Guerrero, and Floyd (2010) suggested that “facial expressions, gestures, vocal behaviors, and touch can convey meaning, but we often overlook the communicative value of things such as architecture, decorations, color, time cycles, or punctuality. In truth, however, the ways we manipulate our physical world and time can send profound messages about who we are, what we value, and how we want others to treat us” (p. 170). The Thomas Jefferson statue that sits on the quad of the University of Missouri campus delivers a nonverbal code which affects me emotionally and psychologically.

Burgoon et al., (2010) stated that statues and objects alone can provide strong and distinct messages about an environment and the people who inhabit it. The Jefferson statue on campus sends two signals: the first coding nonverbal element is that the University of Missouri belongs to a specific class structure, those who are great land-holders, wealthy and white. Secondly, it represents the discrimination of immigrant poor and landless whites, maltreatment of the Indigenous Indian, and the dehumanization of black individuals who Jefferson himself viewed as inferior, owning over 200 slaves while believing that blacks were unintelligent and never could be equal to whites (Benson, 1971).

Jefferson, one of the Founding Fathers who preached “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man” (Wilbur, 1962, p. 7) and that all men created equal, but possessed slaves up until his death July 4, 1826. This was a man that urged freedom for all and TALKED about the abolition of slavery, but never practiced democracy a day in his life. Even after his death the slaves he owned were restricted of their God given liberty. For example, Israel Jefferson, one of 37 house slaves for the former president was sold shortly after his death along with 150 other slaves via auction block (Burstein, 2005).

This was a man that believed that both black and white individuals, equally free, could not live under the same government (Gardner, 1974). This was a man who created a provision (but was unsuccessful) that would emancipate black slaves in exchange for free white laborers, for which he knew would not work as he stated “for in a warm climate, no man will labour for himself who can make another labour for him” (Gardner, 1974, p. 78).

This was a man that raped 16 year old Sally Hemings, a young innocent house slave (Burstein, 2005). Burstein (2005) wrote, "Sally Hemings appears to have had only the singular sexual obligation of accommodating her master on occasion. The common denominator is that domestic labor meant restriction, and sex was potentially just another chore for the unfree" (Burstein, 2005, p. 163). Furthermore, Hooks (2015) reminds us that black women were constantly violated by slave owners citing "the white woman could at least plead for her own emancipation; the black woman doubly enslaved, could but suffer and struggle and be silent" (p. 2).

The University of Missouri tells us directly on their webpage that "more than 175 years later, Jefferson's legacy lives on at MU in the physical and philosophical" (Curators of the University of Missouri, 2015 see http://jeffersonclub.missouri.edu/s/1002/giving/index.aspx?sid=1002&gid=165&pgid=4730). Kezar and Eckel (2002) in examining the "Effect of Institutional Culture on Change Strategies in Higher Education" alluded to Tierney's (1991) research on culture and higher education and proclaims that "values, beliefs, and assumptions of an institution are reflected in its processes and artifacts (p. 440). How does Jefferson statue represent respect for Sasha Menu Courey and other victims of sexual abuse at the University of Missouri?

Thomas Jefferson’s statue sends a clear nonverbal message that his values and beliefs are supported by the University of Missouri. No, I am not talking about the ideals within the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson's statue perpetuates a sexist-racist atmosphere that continues to reside on campus. The University of Missouri Statement of Values include: Respect – “demonstrated by a commitment to act ethically, to welcome difference, and to engage in open exchange about both ideas and decisions”; and Responsibility – “a sense of responsibility requires careful reflection on one’s moral obligations.

Being responsible imposes the duty on us and our university to make decisions by acknowledging the context and considering consequences, both intended and unintended, of any course of action” (University of Missouri, 2015). Removing Jefferson’s statue alone will not eliminate the racial problems we face in America today, but it will help cure the emotional and psychological strain of oppressive history. We ought to live in a society that does not celebrate dishonorable individual's - despite their historical nature, we must remove white supremacy from public spaces. Yes, we should value the ideals within the Deceleration of Independence and work as a nation to achieve them. However, we should not honor individual's responsible for genocide and slavery for their crimes have caused generational destruction and damage of African American and Native American people. We must respect the victims of genocide and slavery.

As Fryer (2015) stated, "statues everywhere can be complicated. They freeze a likeness of a person at a moment when it is assumed that their legacy will be celebrated for ever. This is almost always wrong and the streets and squares of cities across the world are littered with bronze and granite monuments to people who were responsible for heinous deeds. But now and again their moment comes and they prompt claims and counterclaims that force new and significant solutions for seemingly intractable problems. Rhodes was a megalomaniacal imperialist with an unshakeable belief in his racial superiority. With some irony, his fall may prove to be his most enduring legacy" (p. 1). 



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