Hofstra University relocates statue of Thomas Jefferson

Hofstra University relocates statue of Thomas Jefferson
Hofstra University relocated a statue of Thomas Jefferson, which has been at the center of controversy throughout the college for a number of years. (Photo by Robert Pelaez)

Hofstra University has relocated a statue of Thomas Jefferson that has been a point of controversy for the student body for a number of years.

The removal of the statue came in the aftermath of other statues and monuments being taken down around the nation in efforts to combat systemic and institutionalized racism sparked by the killing of George Floyd.

Hofstra President Stuart Rabinowitz announced the movement of the statue in a letter to the university community on June 23. 

Rabinowitz said the decision was made with the help of the university’s Committee on Representation in Public Spaces.  The committee, Rabinowitz said, is chaired by Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Margaret Abraham and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Cornell Craig and includes a diverse collection of university employees.

“Institutions, like people, evolve, and come to new understandings based on the work and words of activists and leaders. It has become clear to all of us that the pain of our Black students and citizens in regards to the symbols and representation of our national history is substantial,” Rabinowitz said in a statement. “Thomas Jefferson has long stood at the entrance to the Student Center, the primary campus thoroughfare for students, but over the past few years, the placement of the Jefferson statue, and the history it represents, has been a reminder and consistent source of pain for many of our Black students and allies.”

The statue previously stood at the entrance of Hofstra’s Sondra and David S. Mack Student Center, which houses the main dining area, a school store for apparel and textbooks, and an area students frequently pass when walking from the residential side of campus to the academic side.

The statue’s new home is behind the university’s Emily Lowe Museum on the academic side of campus.

Mack, a Kings Point real estate developer whose name is featured prominently throughout the campus, donated the statue to his alma mater in 1999. According to Newsday, the statue has been the center of protests dating to 2004.

Online petitions began to circulate during the spring of 2018 calling for university officials to move the statue so that African-American students would not have to pass a statue of a man who owned hundreds of slaves.  In 1998, a DNA test indicated that Jefferson had several children with Sally Hemmings, a slave he owned.

Others argued that Jefferson’s contributions in establishing American independence were enough of a reason for the statue to remain where it was.

A Change.org petition created on June 23 implored Hofstra officials to remove the statue from the campus.

“What is happening just outside the walls of Lowe Hall are just a reflection of what is happening campus wide, statewide, and nationwide. Black Americans have been historically brutalized for centuries,” the petition’s description reads. “Americans across the country are calling for an end of the violence as well as the upholding of the country’s racist past.”

As of Monday, the petition had 1,627 signatures.

“In the next year, my hope for our community is that we might focus on moving our University forward and continuing the critical work of listening and building an ever more inclusive and diverse community,” Rabinowitz said. “We understand, thanks to the voices of students, faculty, alumni, staff and our neighboring communities, that we all have a role to play in creating that community so that every individual feels valued and heard.”

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