UNC Jefferson Award recipient says that the award is a 'reckoning with Thomas Jefferson's legacy' and 'systemic racism'
The professor received an award given to 'the faculty who most closely approximates in his teaching and personal life the philosophy and conduct of Thomas Jefferson.”'
She refers to 'reckoning with the legacies of systemic racism at the founding of the United States and this university' as 'among the most sacred and urgent work at UNC-Chapel Hill.'
After receiving the University of North Carolina’s (UNC) Thomas Jefferson Award, one professor has decided to accept the award in spite of Jefferson’s legacy rather than in honor of it.
On Oct. 6, Patricia Parker received the Thomas Jefferson Award, an award given to “the faculty who most closely approximates in his teaching and personal life the philosophy and conduct of Thomas Jefferson.” More specifically, the award honors those who exemplify the values of “democracy, public service, and the pursuit of knowledge.”
Parker works as the “Director of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities, the Ruel W. Tyson, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Humanities, and Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.”
Her research interests include “exploring the intersections of race, gender, leadership, and power,” “communication for social justice,” and “the communication processes that can block or fuel that capacity in a particular community or organization, especially where there is unequal power.”
Despite the award’s intention, Parker has accepted this award in the names of Ella Baker, a civil rights campaigner, and Sally Hemmings, a woman enslaved by Jefferson.
“This award is significant to me because it provides a platform for elevating what I think is among the most sacred and urgent work at UNC-Chapel Hill — reckoning with the legacies of systemic racism at the founding of the United States and this university to find pathways toward healing, reparations and strengthening American democracy,” Parker stated.
“I think the ideals the award represents are absolutely an affirmation of my life’s work. It’s a reckoning with Thomas Jefferson’s legacy and, in a way, it’s symbolic of my being here at the University of North Carolina in the first place,” she continued.
Lloyd Kramer, a history professor who presented Parker with the award, agrees with her sentiment.
“I feel like Pat’s career has tried to build on the positive aspects of the Jeffersonian ideas — human rights, democracy, public education — while also challenging the negative legacies of racism and hierarchy that were linked to that in Jefferson’s own life,” he said.
“Just as our own university has a complex history of racism and slavery that we are reckoning with, so does the Monticello Jeffersonian tradition, and I couldn’t think of anyone better positioned to wrestle with that challenge,” he continued.
Campus Reform has reached out to UNC, Parker, and Kramer for comment and will update the story accordingly.