With the results of the presidential election announced only a week ago, controversy has stuck the nation. Riots and protests are hitting major cities around the country, minorities feel threatened, and college campuses, including the University of Virginia, have been subject to discriminatory behaviors.
In response to such behaviors, University President Teresa A. Sullivan sent out an email on November 9th calling for unity and for the University community to behave as the distinguished people that both President Sullivan and UVa founder Thomas Jefferson believed students ought to be.
Sullivan supplemented her appeal with a quote by Jefferson, saying 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.” The line caught many people’s attention, so much so that Assistant Professor of Psychology Noelle Hurd wrote a letter to President Sullivan condemning her use of Jefferson’s quotes. The letter was signed by Four hundred and sixty-nine students and faculty members.
The letter contained “constructive criticism” and explained that The University’s community did not agree with President Sullivan using Thomas Jefferson as a moral compass, especially in time directly after the Election of President Donald Trump. The reason why many were against the quotes is because of the fact that Thomas Jefferson was a slave owner.
In response to the letter, President Sullivan stated that she respected people’s opinion and that she does not agree with everything Thomas Jefferson did, but she did agree with the message she included in her email to the University community.
“Quoting Jefferson (or any historical figure) does not imply an endorsement of all the social structures and beliefs of his time, such as slavery and the exclusion of women and people of color from the University,” Sullivan said.
President Sullivan went on to say that Thomas Jefferson may not have predicted that men, women, people with different racial backgrounds, and members of the LGBTQ community would be attending his university, but that they all belong at the University.
President Sullivan intends to continue quoting Thomas Jefferson on matters that she believes they both see eye to eye on. She never intended to discriminate or offend anyone by quoting Jefferson, but she wants to convey his messages that are still relevant today, despite Jefferson’s background.