As the national outcry over South Carolina's Confederate flag has grown since last week's horrific massacre of nine black Charleston churchgoers by a white supremacist, UT-Austin's Confederate monuments have attracted renewed scrutiny as well.
A petition to UT President Greg Fenves to remove the Jefferson Davis statue has been signed by over 2,400 people (as of the afternoon of June 23), following up on the student government’s resolution, passed in March, in support of the removal. On June 24, Fenves will announce “a committee of students, faculty members, and alumni that will discuss the future of Jefferson Davis statue and provide a range of options for me to review,” according to a June 23 press release.
After a campaign conducted largely on social media (#NoDavisOnCampus), Fenves tweeted in response on June 20, “I take this issue very seriously and am working with students and campus leadership on it.” On June 22, he met with student government, and SG President Xavier Rotnofsky told the Chronicle that he feels optimistic. The efforts to remove the statue have been supported by state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, Paul Begala, and even U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio.
While addressing the Davis statue has been a part of their campaign all along, Rotnofsky noted, “The Charleston tragedy reminded everyone that racism is very much still a thing we have to deal with, and it’s ingrained in our cultural landscape through these monuments and symbols.”
Last night, three of the Confederate statues on campus were spray-painted with “Black Lives Matter” and “Bump All the Chumps” (referring to one of RotMan’s slogans calling to remove the Davis statue). The student government denounced the vandalism, urging students and supporters to work through the administration and student government.
Gregory Vincent, vice president for Diversity and Community Engagement, will chair the new committee. On June 23, Vincent took questions in front of the Jefferson Davis statue. He said that the task force hopes to make their decision regarding the statue by the end of the summer, while noting that any change would have to be approved by the regents. He also denounced the vandalism.
While the task force announcement was a sign of progress for many, it’s worth noting that Fenves isn’t the first to organize such a committee. As we reported in May, both former President Bill Powers and former President Larry Faulkner put together task forces to look into the statues – but neither president ever did anything about them. It’s also notable that students have made efforts to address the statues since at least the late Sixties, so it should be interesting to see how Fenves handles the situation this time around, given the national attention.
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