School officials unresponsive to inquiries
A Christopher Columbus statue at Pepperdine University torn down after student complaints of racism and oppression was supposed to make a trip across the Atlantic to the Old World, where it would find a new home at the prestigious school’s campus in Florence, Italy.
But it looks like that plan has been sunk.
Today, about 18 months after that decision was made, it does not appear the private, Christian university has followed through on its pledge to give the explorer a new home.
In early 2017, Pepperdine leaders made the decision to remove the statue of Christopher Columbus from its beachside, Malibu campus after a small but vocal group of students demanded its removal.
In one protest, for example, approximately 25 students converged on the statue and chanted “take it down” as part of a protest group called “Waves Against Columbus.” A written statement from the group called the statue “a celebration of genocide and racial oppression.”
The university announced that the statue was to be moved from the school’s California campus to its campus in Italy, this despite thousands of signatures demanding the university keep the statue, which was donated in 1992 by a group representing the Columbus 500 Congress.
In his message to students announcing the statue’s relocation, President Andrew Benton said “stories of conquest and the art associated therewith are painful reminders of loss and human tragedy” for many, including those at the university, which is affiliated with the Churches of Christ tradition.
Today, Pepperdine officials remain silent on the statue’s location and fate, despite multiple attempts by The College Fix to confirm its location and whether it has been — or even will be — installed at the school’s Florence location, as promised.
Over the last several weeks, The Fix made multiple email inquiries about the location of the statue to Elizabeth Whatley, the director of Pepperdine’s Florence campus program, and Alessio Basta, the program assistant, and received no response. Officials also did not respond to a voicemail.
The Fix also made multiple phone and email inquiries to Pepperdine’s California campus, including emails to Pepperdine President Andrew Benton, Provost Rick Marrs, and Ronald Cox, the associate dean of international programs.
The email inquiries asked the university to confirm whether or not the statue had actually been relocated to the Florence campus, and also to provide The Fix with a photo of the statue for confirmation.
All of these attempts to confirm the statue’s fate were ignored. Pepperdine’s silence raises questions as to whether or not the statue has actually been moved, or if the university simply decided to mothball it indefinitely.
Last October, almost eight months after it was taken down, The Fix reported that the statue was still in the university’s “safekeeping.”
“At this time, the statue remains in the university’s safekeeping. The university’s plans to relocate the statue to the Florence campus have not changed,” Pepperdine told The Fix in an email at the time.
The email did not disclose a timetable for when the statue would actually be relocated. It is not clear whether or not a timetable exists.
When a College Fix reporter visited the campus that same month, he found widespread apathy among the general student body toward the statue.
“In about a dozen interviews with students, many said they and their peers were indifferent to the statue and Benton’s decision to remove it from campus,” The Fix reported.
Attempts to interview President Benton about the issue were also stonewalled at the time. The university’s public relations department referred The Fix to a statement about the statue that “recognizes the importance of compromise in creating a campus culture of unity and inclusiveness.”
The statue had been given to the school as a gift in 1992, a date that marked the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s crossing the Atlantic.
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