Nevada university will not remove Gutzon Borglum's statue from its campus

The University of Nevada, Reno decided to keep a statue designed by the Mount Rushmore sculptor on school grounds.

Controversy arose over the sculptor's association with the KKK and Confederate causes.

As student activism fell flat from initial uproar in 2020, University of Nevada, Reno, decided not to remove a controversial statue connected to Mount Rushmore. 

In September, the university assembled an advisory committee to consider the removal of the John Mackay Statue on campus, which was designed by Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor who designed Mount Rushmore and an Abraham Lincoln bust on display in the United States Capitol. 

In addition to designing several prominent Confederate statues across the United States, Borglum was associated with the KKK.

A  June 7 university press release — to which Director of Communications Scott Walquist referred Campus Reform — states that although all members of the committee “agreed that the systemic racism, violence and discrimination experienced in Nevada by marginalized communities” is deplorable, they also “agreed that there is still a great deal that can and should be done to acknowledge, learn from and address the lasting impacts of that racism, violence and discrimination.”

The committee could not attribute any malicious motives to John Mackay, who made his fortune mining silver in the Comstock Lode.

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With respect to the statue designed by Borglum, the committee suggested “retaining the statue in place, using these discussions as a springboard for holistic public discussions and representations of Nevada’s history, including the impacts of the state’s settlement and development on marginalized communities, people of color, and perhaps most importantly, Indigenous lands and communities.”

“Such representations could include interpretive displays either outdoors or within the various museums across campus, in order to help bring awareness to the impact of Nevada’s settlement and development on marginalized populations, Indigenous lands and people,” explained the statement.

University of Nevada, Reno President Brian Sandoval agreed with the committee’s conclusion. According to the statement, he is “hopeful that with a number of nationally recognized and respected faculty whose teaching, scholarly expertise and outreach are in these areas, we can make significant inroads in bringing dialogue, discussion, awareness and understanding to these important issues.”

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In an online petition, a  student group called “FUSED UNR” wrote that upon close examination, “many racial controversies emerge regarding the origins on the John Mackay statue, as well as the Comstock Lode itself.”

In addition to citing Borglum’s involvement in the statue’s creation, the authors attempted to implicate Mackay of involvement in a “systemically racist system.” According to the petition, the Comstock Lode caused many miners to migrate in search of silver; as a result, Native American families were displaced and tortured.

“John Mackay spearheaded the Comstock Lode; therefore, he strengthened white supremacy and patriarchy, violence against Black and Brown people, and the stealing of Indigenous lands for white profit,” said the petition. “Knowing this history, imagine being a Black or Brown person at the University of Nevada, Reno.”

The petition received over 242 signatures — a figure equivalent to 1.4 percent of the undergraduate population.

Campus Reform reached out to the University of Nevada, Reno for comment; this article will be updated accordingly.