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U.Va. Board of Visitors votes to contextualize Thomas Jefferson statue, remove George Rogers Clark statue

The Board also approved resolutions to rededicate or remove the Frank Hume Memorial Wall, rename the Curry School and Withers-Brown Hall, along with long-term goals

The Board of Visitors approved resolutions to remove the George Rogers Clark statue, contextualize the statue of Thomas Jefferson in front of the Rotunda, rededicate or remove the Whispering Wall, rename the Curry School and rename Withers-Brown Hall.
The Board of Visitors approved resolutions to remove the George Rogers Clark statue, contextualize the statue of Thomas Jefferson in front of the Rotunda, rededicate or remove the Whispering Wall, rename the Curry School and rename Withers-Brown Hall.

The Board of Visitors voted to endorse the proposals outlined in the racial equity task force’s final report during its meeting Friday. Notably, the Board also voted to approve resolutions to rename the Curry School of Education and Human Development, contextualize the statue of Thomas Jefferson in front of the Rotunda, rededicate or remove the Frank Hume Memorial Wall, remove and relocate the George Rogers Clark statue and rename Withers-Brown Hall at the School of Law. 

The vote comes roughly one month after the University’s racial equity task force released its final report, titled Audacious Future: Commitment Required. Commissioned by University President Jim Ryan in June following nationwide protests over police brutality and the murder of George Floyd, the task force is made up of Kevin McDonald, vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion, Ian Solomon, dean of the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy and Barbara Brown Wilson, assistant professor of Urban and Environmental Planning.

At Friday’s meeting, Ryan said that he thinks the Board should focus on supporting the initiatives in the report aimed at increasing diversity among students, faculty and staff at the University. 

“Some will think — and have expressed — that this report goes too far, others believe it may not go far enough” Ryan said. “But I see the report at its core as a call for us to be the best version of ourselves, to live out our stated commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion in a way that allows us to become a better University.”

Ryan said that since the goals of the report align with the priorities of the 2030 Strategic Plan, their funding will come from the Strategic Investment Fund.

Changes to the historic landscape

Ryan also announced several recommendations being made to the University’s Committee on Names — which will be renamed the Naming and Memorials Committee — to their policies and processes for addressing the University’s historic landscape. Ryan specified three recommendations — that the University should be open to renaming a building once the time period for a name expires; that the University’s built environment should not celebrate the Confederacy or the myth of the last cause; and that when there is a name change, the University should make a full biography of each previous namesake easily available in order to ensure that community members address and learn from history, not erase it.

Contextualization of Thomas Jefferson statue

The Board passed a resolution authorizing University leadership to work with historians and other experts to contextualize the statue, which stands on the north side of the Rotunda. While the resolution acknowledges the accomplishments of Jefferson as both a founding father and the founder of the University, it calls attention to his ownership of enslaved people, usage of enslaved labor to build the University and other “contradictory writings and actions.”

“The life of the founder of the University of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson, is a complex one,” the resolution reads. “It is apparent that crucial to improving the racial climate is to reframe the historic landscape to tell a broader story about all of those who contributed to building and operating the University over its 200 year history, including recontextualizing the monuments to its founder Thomas Jefferson.”

The BOV did not specify a timeline or further details for contextualizing the Jefferson statue.

Removal and relocation of the Clark statue

The Board also voted to remove and relocate the George Rogers Clark statue located by the Corner. The statue of Clark, a Revolutionary war general who led campaigns against Native Americans, was erected in the 1920s and depicts Clark on horseback, towering over three Native American individuals, with an inscription that reads “Conqueror of the Northwest.”

The Clark statue was the site of a demonstration Thursday evening, which around 100 individuals attended to call for the University to establish a U.Va. Native American Foundation and construct an Indigenous Cultural Center in the space where the statue is located.

The demonstrators reiterated the goals of a recent proposal led by Anthony Guy Lopez, a University graduate, co-founder of Native American and Indigenous Studies Group at U.Va and enrolled member of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe in South Dakota. In an interview with The Cavalier Daily before the Board’s discussion, Lopez emphasized that, beyond removal of the statue, the University must work to establish representation and support for the Indigenous community at the University.

“It really would be a hollow gesture to remove [the Clark statue] but not address any of the systemic issues here at the University, which silence Native Americans,” Lopez said.

Rededication or removal of Hume Memorial Wall

The Board also voted to rededicate or remove the Frank Hume Memorial Wall — also known as the Whispering Wall — located outside of Newcomb Hall and Brown College. Hume was a Confederate army soldier who later served in the Virginia House of Delegates. The inscription on the wall, which the resolution calls a “symbol of support for slavery and inequality,” refers to Hume as a “devoted Virginian who served his native state in Civil War and Legislative Hall.”

This summer, a student-authored petition calling to remove the Whispering Wall garnered over 2,000 signatures.

Renaming of the Curry School of Education

The Board also voted to rename the Curry School of Education and Human Development to the School of Education and Human Development. J.L.M. Curry — whose legacy has been called into question due to his slaveholding, opposition to integrating schools and service to the Confederate Army — was neither a student nor faculty member at the University. 

The decision follows a process of exploring the school’s namesake that began in November 2018, when Curry School Dean Robert Pianta instructed an ad-hoc Committee on Names to conduct a “thorough and thoughtful process of study” regarding the future of the Curry and Ruffner names. Last June, the Board voted unanimously to rename Ruffner Hall in honor of Walter Ridley, the first Black student to earn a doctoral degree from the University. 

Removing Withers’ name from Withers-Brown Hall

Finally, the Board passed a resolution to remove Withers from the name of Withers-Brown Hall, a building located in the University’s School of Law. Henry Withers was a Confederate soldier and slave owner who studied law at the University.

Racial Equity Task Force goals

The Board also endorsed other goals put forth by the task force that pertain to the University’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

The goals include doubling the number of underrepresented faculty at the University by 2030, reviewing the tenure and promotion process and reviewing hiring policies to ensure equitable staff hiring, wages, retention, promotion and procurement. The University also aims to recruit a student body reflective of the demographics of the Commonwealth and nation at large over a time-period that is yet to be determined, debating on Friday whether the University should aim for a student body that is reflective of Virginia, the nation or students nationwide. In 2019, the University’s undergraduate student body was 55.98 percent white, 15.33 percent Asian American, 6.62 percent Hispanic American, 6.61 percent African American, 0.1 percent Native American or Alaskan, 0.07 Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander and 5.43 percent unknown, 5.02 non-resident alien and 4.82 percent multi-racial American. 

Additionally, the University looks to encourage the development of a scholarship program for descendants of enslaved laborers who built the University, provide the Carter Woodson Institute for African American Studies with an endowment and funding for recruiting faculty and explore options for recognizing and supporting Native American students and Native American studies. Other resources are to be allocated to the division of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Community Partnerships.

The University also aims to develop academic and leadership programs geared toward racial equity and anti-racism. Finally, it will be “thoroughly reviewing” University Police practices and

introducing a Department of Safety and Security Advisory Council.

The Board instructed University leadership to create a plan for funding, implementing and measuring progress toward the recommendations.

“The Board’s commitments today are a significant step toward building upon the important work of those in years past and the racially centered work of students, alumni and colleagues that continues today,” McDonald said. “I’m grateful for the support of the board and most importantly, I look forward to the implementation process ahead, as we set the necessary expectations and accountability measures that will ensure and sustain our institutional efforts.”

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