Iconic statue of celebrated president kindles bold criticism

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Jefferson’s statue, placed on the Francis Quad of the University of Missouri – Columbia, was intended to celebrate his many achievements. Recently, however, several students, both at Mizzou and RBHS, have voiced their complaints regarding the controversial and often untold portions of Jefferson’s life. Photo by Jae Rhee

Rochita Ghosh

Thomas Jefferson: third president of the United States, author of the Declaration of Independence, founding father. Slave owner, alleged rapist.
Some of these labels are why some University of Missouri – Columbia students are calling for the removal of the Thomas Jefferson statue on the Francis Quad on campus. They say the presence of the statue sends the wrong message because of Jefferson’s supposed racism and sexism, according to the petition started by the protesters that aims to improve the acceptance in the campus atmosphere by removing the statue.
“The need to project a progressive environment is just as important as food and shelter to survive,” the petition says. “A welcoming environment does not stop at the feet of individuals in particular spaces, [and] is also determined by its physical environment…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.”
Whether this message was intentional or not remains unclear. The statue’s plaque states that the statue was meant to commemorate the connection that MU has with Jefferson. The university, founded in part by Jefferson, was the first to be built west of the Mississippi River, and the first high education school built in the area of the Louisiana Purchase. The quad that Jefferson currently sits in shares the same design as the one at the University of Virginia, another institution Jefferson helped establish.
Christian Basi, associate director at the News Bureau in MU, says this association between Jefferson and the University campus was the only intent.
“The University of Missouri was modeled after his vision of a public university, where every citizen can have access to an institution of higher education,” Basi said, “where different ideas and opinions are voiced and debated, and where the knowledge gained is passed on to the people of the state for the betterment of society.”
While sophomore Billie Huang agrees with the importance of acceptance felt by those on campus, he disagrees with the idea of removing the statue. Even if they are justified in wanting to remove the statue from the Quad, the reasons why the statue should stand overshadows them.
“Back then, times were different; it was normal to own slaves,” Huang said. “It’s obviously not a good thing to own people and be racist, but it was the norm. I don’t see why you shouldn’t honor [Jefferson], because it’s like honoring your school and its history.”
However, these protesters state that MU should not honor this history because it is laced with undertones of racism and sexism. Such reasoning for wanting the statue removed resonates with junior Ojurere Shonekan, who agrees with removing Thomas Jefferson from campus.
“The statue should be taken down because he wasn’t that good of a person; like I think if there’s a statue of somebody, it’s a great sign of respect,” Shonekan said. “Since he didn’t show any respect for his political competitors and was very sly and backhanded about the way he handled his politics, his statue should be taken down because he didn’t exemplify the ‘American way’ by following the rules and being a moral person.”
Basi says while there is no plan to remove the statue currently, the opinions of those on both sides of the debate will not go unheard.
“As a public university, we understand the importance of being a community where anyone can raise their voice and seek change,” Basi said. “We work hard to involve students, faculty and staff in making decisions about processes and procedures that affect them directly. We welcome the input for ideas on improving the education experience of every student on campus because we can only thrive as a campus community when all of our members are fully engaged in the process.”
By Rochita Ghosh