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Pepperdine U.’s Columbus statue kept mothballed after ‘oppression’ protests

When Pepperdine University ceded to demands and removed a Christopher Columbus statue from its Malibu campus earlier this year, the institution’s president said it would be relocated to their campus in Florence, Italy.

The decision came after the tall metal monument — a cast of the explorer pointing into the distance with one hand and holding maps in the other — frequently drew the ire of student activists who demanded its removal, saying it represented white supremacy, genocide and oppression.

But more than eight months after the announcement that the statue would be relocated, it has yet to arrive at its new home.

“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 said last week in a statement provided to The College Fix.

The university declined to comment on a timetable for the statue’s relocation and did not expand on its current location.

The monument’s limbo has led critics of its removal to suggest the private university has put the bust of Columbus on “house arrest” and urge that its relocation be scrapped.

MORE: Ceding to demands, Pepperdine will remove Christopher Columbus statue

“I just hope that they reflect upon what’s taken place over the past year and change their mind at some point prior to sending it off. The drop in enrollment and Mizzou and the riots at Berkeley both show that capitulating to student protesters doesn’t ultimately bode well for universities, or anyone for that matter,” graduate student Kaitlyn Pfingston told The College Fix.

John Ritchie, director of the Catholic TFP Student Action that was one of two major advocacy groups to lead a protest against the statue’s removal, said the mothballed statue seems like the memory of Columbus is “being treated like a criminal.”

“The Left detests heroes who had grand souls and lofty vision and Columbus was certainly one of them. That might explain why Pepperdine removed the statue of Columbus and is now keeping it under a sort of house arrest,” Ritchie said in an email to The Fix.

Pepperdine University President Andrew Benton announced in late January the Columbus statue, donated in 1992, would be removed from its location on the Malibu, Calif., campus and relocated to the university’s Florence campus.

In his email, 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.

MORE: Petition aims to save Christopher Columbus statue at Pepperdine

Columbus’s exploration was taught for many years in American schools as “heroic and exciting,” he wrote: “Later, as the impact of the arrival of explorers was assessed more fully, especially as those impacts related to indigenous people, a different view formed.”

Those who donated the sculpture “meant to honor the good attributes of [Columbus’s] life” and “they did not mean to offend,” Benton wrote, saying the removal decision came after reflection and consultation with university stakeholders.

That announcement came after about two dozen students took to the statue’s location on Columbus Day last year and chanted “take it down,” according to the Pepperdine Graphic. A written statement from the protest group, “Waves Against Columbus,” claimed the statue is “a celebration of genocide and racial oppression.”

A call to remove the statue was also included in a list of demands compiled by a group of student protesters who held a demonstration in “solidarity” with University of Missouri black students in November 2015.

But the statue’s removal had irked many, and petitions from two conservative groups, TFP Student Action and PragerU, opposed the idea, garnering thousands of signatures. Some students also spoke out against the decision.

While the statue has drawn intense opinions regarding its removal, The College Fix’s visit to the campus in February found there appeared to widespread apathy over the issue among students. 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.

MORE: Pepperdine removes Columbus statue amid public scrutiny, student indifference

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About the Author
Nathan Rubbelke is a staff reporter for The College Fix with a specialty on investigative and enterprise reporting. He has also held editorial positions at The Commercial Review daily newspaper in Portland, Indiana, as well as at The Washington Examiner, Red Alert Politics and St. Louis Public Radio. Rubbelke graduated from Saint Louis University, where he majored in political science and sociology.

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