After Students Call It Racist, Mary Baldwin University Removes Richmond Artists’ Confederate-Themed Exhibit
Graham Moomaw, Richmond Times-Dispatch, November 12, 2018
The “Relevant/Scrap” exhibit by Richmond artists Jere Williams and Pam Sutherland was taken down by Mary Baldwin University in Staunton after students objected to the Confederate-themed imagery and called the exhibit racist.
The exhibit, titled “Relevant/Scrap,” included images of statues from Richmond’s Monument Avenue that the artists said were intended to evoke the “complexity” of the debate over Confederate monuments. It was taken down Wednesday, about 48 hours after it opened.
In a letter to a Mary Baldwin dean, the artists, Jere Williams and Pam Sutherland, said their work had been misinterpreted, but they agreed that it should be removed from the university’s Hunt Gallery.
The art controversy underscores the hazards of the debate over Confederate statutes in Richmond and elsewhere, even for those who may have no intention of casting the monuments in a positive light.
“Moving forward, Mary Baldwin will review its policies and procedures for selecting and booking cultural exhibitions on campus, including facilitating student input,” the university said. “Mary Baldwin’s commitment to being an inclusive, accepting community is a defining feature of our university.”
“The students thought that the imagery was culturally insensitive and did not align with Mary Baldwin values,” Crosier said.
An Instagram account titled “yallracistatmarybaldwinu” posted several photos of the exhibit, including cards with the figure of Robert E. Lee next to messages like “love trumps hate” and “you lost get over it.” Another piece showed the outline of Stonewall Jackson presented as a green car air freshener with the label “CHRISTIANITY.”
The social media account also posted photos of messages taped up on campus featuring notes like “Congratulations you graduated from MICROaggression to MACROaggression!!!” and “If it looks racist it is racist!!!” Another note called for the removal of Mary Baldwin President Pamela Fox.
The university said it plans to hold several “listening sessions” this week and a presentation from a history professor titled “Memory, Monuments and Meaning.”
Mary Baldwin’s decision drew criticism from some free-speech advocates. In a statement, Jonathan Friedman, director of PEN America’s campus free speech project, said the students’ reaction “could have been better anticipated.” But the university could have allowed its students to be heard “while also staunchly defending the artists’ rights and the value of free expression.”
“Teaching students that censorship is the solution to provocative material is a dangerous lesson, one which should be of grave concern to the artistic and academic communities alike,” Friedman said.