UVA profs, students triggered by Thomas Jefferson quotes

Hundreds of students at the University of Virginia have signed a petition requesting that their president stop quoting Thomas Jefferson in official university communications.

According to The Cavalier Daily, UVA president Teresa Sullivan invoked the wisdom of Jefferson in a post-election email sent out Wednesday in an attempt to caution students against division.

“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,’” she reminded students, encouraging them to “embrace that responsibility.”

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Now, however, her students have done precisely the opposite, objecting to the use of Jefferson’s quote and demanding that Sullivan refrain from repeating such references in a letter penned by several faculty members, which had garnered nearly 500 signatures from students and staff alike.

“Despite the potential usefulness of a historical political leader to bring the community together in times of need, we are disappointed in the use of Thomas Jefferson as a moral compass,” the letter states, suggesting that even referencing Jefferson in an email is racist because he “owned hundreds of slaves and was deeply involved in the racist history of this university.”

The letter goes on to contend that some of the more controversial quotes attributed to Jefferson—such as his assertion that “blacks are inferior to whites in the endowments of body and mind,” and that they are “incapable as children of taking care of themselves”—make any references to the third President of the United States problematic.

“Though we realize that some members of our university community may be inspired by quotes from Jefferson, we hope to bring to light that many of us are deeply offended by the attempts of the administration to guide our behavior through his rhetoric,” the letter suggests, arguing that they “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.”

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The petition, which was sent to Sullivan with 469 student and faculty signatures, apparently was an attempt to “start a conversation with [the school’s] administration regarding ways to be more inclusive,” according to Professor Noelle Hurd, who drafted the letter.

“In the current climate, we must seize every opportunity to communicate that this university welcomes individuals from all backgrounds,” she told The Cavalier Daily. “I think that Jefferson is often celebrated for his accomplishments with little or no acknowledgement of the atrocities he committed against hundreds of human beings.”

Sullivan’s office, which has yet to publicly address the petition leveled against her, did not respond to requests for comment from Campus Reform.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @AutumnDawnPrice