Hundreds of students and faculty at the University of Virginia have asked the school’s president to stop quoting President Thomas Jefferson, the university’s founder, because of his slave-owning past.
The letter garnered 469 signatures before being sent to University President Teresa Sullivan on Friday, The Cavalier Daily reported. It was prompted by an email sent last week by Ms. Sullivan promoting unity in light of Donald Trump’s presidential victory.
“Thomas Jefferson wrote to a friend that University of Virginia students ‘are not of ordinary significance only: they are exactly the persons who are to succeed to the government of our country, and to rule its future enmities, its friendships and fortunes,’” Ms. Sullivan wrote in the email. “I encourage today’s U.Va. students to embrace that responsibility.”
Professors argued that Ms. Sullivan should refrain from quoting the late president due to his owning of slaves and other racist beliefs, The Cavalier Daily reported.
“I’ve been here 15 years,” added politics professor Lawrie Balfour. “Again and again, I have found that at moments when the community needs reassurance and Jefferson appears, it undoes I think the really important work that administrators and others are trying to do.”
Ms. Sullivan indicated in a statement Monday that she had no intention to ban Jefferson quotes from her speeches or emails.
“Quoting Jefferson (or any historical figure) does not imply an endorsement of all the social structures and beliefs of his time, such as slavery and the exclusion of women and people of color from the University,” she wrote, in part.