A Change.org petition has been launched to protect Thomas Jefferson’s legacy at University of Virginia after some professors and students asked President Teresa Sullivan to stop using Jefferson quotes when addressing the campus community.
The petition states in part:
Thomas Jefferson’s legacy at the University of Virginia is under assault. University faculty members and students have recently submitted a letter with 469 signatures urging University President Theresa Sullivan to stop using Jefferson’s quotes in messages to the UVa community on the basis that they communicate a “message of exclusion” due to Jefferson’s ownership of slaves. We believe this focus on one horrible aspect of Jefferson’s life wrongly ignores his many important contributions to human dignity and liberty. As a Founding Father of the United States and author of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson personified a view that was far from exclusionary …
By submitting this petition, we wish to deliver the following message:
We respect and honor Thomas Jefferson’s legacy at the University of Virginia, both as the University’s founder and as a Founding Father of our great nation.
We acknowledge that Jefferson’s ownership of slaves was hypocritical and wrong. But we also acknowledge that we can love Thomas Jefferson and honor his legacy without loving everything about him or the time in which he lived.
We reject any and all calls to erase or diminish Jefferson’s legacy at the University of Virginia in the name of political correctness, and we encourage President Teresa Sullivan and the Board of Visitors not to bow to such demands.
So far, 650 people have signed the petition.
John Sweeney, the 2009 alumnus of UVa who started the petition, told The Cavalier Daily campus newspaper that “too often, the most controversial position is heard the loudest while the rest of us simply look on helplessly and hope that cooler heads will prevail.”
“There are many people — I would say a substantial majority — who disagree with the views of the students and faculty who penned this letter to President Sullivan. That majority deserves to be heard, and this petition gives them an opportunity to do that.”
What’s more, UVa President Sullivan defiantly quoted Jefferson in her response to the letter asking her to stop quoting him. She wrote:
UVA is still producing leaders for our Republic, and from backgrounds that Mr. Jefferson could not have anticipated in 1825, when he wrote the words that I quoted. Today’s leaders are women and men, members of all racial and ethnic groups, members of the LGBTQ community, and adherents of all religious traditions. All of them belong at today’s UVA, whose founder’s most influential and most quoted words were “ . . . all men are created equal.” Those words were inherently contradictory in an era of slavery, but because of their power, they became the fundamental expression of a more genuine equality today.