A group of 469 professors and students at the University of Virginia (UVA) are calling for the school’s president to stop quoting school founder Thomas Jefferson, on the grounds that Jefferson was a slave owner.
In a post-election email to the UVA community, school president Teresa Sullivan included a Jefferson quote saying that UVA 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.” Sullivan encouraged modern UVA students to “embrace that responsibility.”
But some at UVA say that quoting Jefferson in such a manner is completely unacceptable.
“We would like for our administration to understand that although some members of this community may have come to this university because of Thomas Jefferson’s legacy, others of us came here in spite of it,” the public letter says. “For many of us, the inclusion of Jefferson quotations in these e-mails undermines the message of unity, equality and civility that you are attempting to convey.”
Besides founding UVA, Jefferson was also America’s third president and one of the young country’s premier intellectuals. Despite strong personal reservations about the morality of slavery, Jefferson owned slaves throughout his life. He also carried on a lengthy relationship with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings, with whom he had several children. (RELATED: San Fran May Dump George Washington High School Because He Owned Slaves)
The letter was drafted by assistant psychology professor Noelle Hurd and was signed by several other professors, along with hundreds of students.
“I drafted the e-mail because when Jefferson was referenced in emails related to the election, it communicated to me a message of exclusion,” Hurd told The Cavalier Daily.
A policy of avoiding quoting Jefferson would potentially extend to avoiding the Declaration of Independence, which Jefferson wrote.
In a statement responding to the letter, Sullivan argued that quoting Jefferson positively wasn’t necessarily an endorsement of his entire life.
“I fully endorse their right to speak out on issues that matter to all of us, including the University’s complicated Jeffersonian legacy,” she said in a statement. “Quoting Jefferson (or any historical figure) does not imply an endorsement of all the social structures and beliefs of his time.”
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