U of Virginia Profs, Students Want No More Thomas Jefferson Quotes

Enough about the slaveowner, already!

The day after the presidential election, the president of the Thomas Jefferson-founded University of Virginia put a quote from the Founding Father in a campus e-mail as part of her response to the outcome. This triggered many professors and students who wrote a letter of their own asking her to refrain from quoting him in future correspondence.

“Thomas Jefferson wrote to a friend that University of Virginia students ‘are not of ordinary significance only: they are exactly the persons who are to succeed to the government of our country, and to rule its future enmities, its friendships and fortunes,’” Teresa Sullivan wrote in her e-mail. “I encourage today’s U.Va. students to embrace that responsibility.”

And that was all it took for 469 signatures to be attached to the cease and desist letter that was sent to Sullivan’s office. They were triggered, of course, by the fact that Jefferson owned slaves:

We would like for our administration to understand that although some members of this community may have come to this university because of Thomas Jefferson's legacy, others of us came here in spite of it. For many of us, the inclusion of Jefferson quotations in these e-mails undermines the message of unity, equality and civility that you are attempting to convey.

The Cavalier Daily listed some of the signees: “Politics Prof. Nicholas Winter, Psychology Prof. Chad Dodson, Women, Gender and Sexuality Prof. Corinne Field, College Assistant Dean Shilpa Davé, Politics Prof. Lynn Sanders and many more. Asst. Psychology Prof. Noelle Hurd drafted the letter.”

Hurd said, “I think that Jefferson is often celebrated for his accomplishments with little or no acknowledgment of the atrocities he committed against hundreds of human beings.”

“In the current climate, we must seize every opportunity to communicate that this university welcomes individuals from all backgrounds,” Hurd added. 

Politics Professor Lawrie Balfour agreed that President Sullivan should have addressed the student body post-election but said invoking Jefferson was counterproductive.

“I’ve been here 15 years,” Balfour stated. “Again and again, I have found that at moments when the community needs reassurance and Jefferson appears, it undoes, I think, the really important work that administrators and others are trying to do.”

Sullivan has since responded to the outcry, and while supporting the opposition’s right to their opinion, she defended her own, stating, “Quoting Jefferson (or any historical figure) does not imply an endorsement of all the social structures and beliefs of his time.”

“All of them [the teachers and students] belong at today’s U.Va., whose founder’s most influential and most quoted words were ‘...all men are created equal,’’ Sullivan added. “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.”

Perhaps these triggered snowflakes should've considered Jefferson's ties to this university before applying there. That might have saved them from hours of trauma.