- The Washington Times - Monday, November 14, 2016

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.

“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 letter read. “For many of us, the inclusion of Jefferson quotations in these emails undermines the message of unity, equality and civility that you are attempting to convey.”

Assistant psychology Professor Noelle Hurd said the letter intended to “start a conversation” about how the administration could be more inclusive.

“In the current climate, we must seize every opportunity to communicate that this university welcomes individuals from all backgrounds,” she said in a statement, The Cavalier Daily reported.

“I think that Jefferson is often celebrated for his accomplishments with little or no acknowledgment of the atrocities he committed against hundreds of human beings,” she said. “This is a complex issue but members of our community are intelligent and compassionate enough to be able to wrestle with this history and decide how we want to move forward as an institution that welcomes all.”

“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. “In the long-standing tradition of open discourse, UVA faculty, staff, and students are free to express their opinions, as they did in a letter to me last week. I fully endorse their right to speak out on issues that matter to all of us, including the University’s complicated Jeffersonian legacy.”

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