University of Virginia president condemns anti-Jefferson protests

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University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan on Wednesday rebuked protesters who covered a statue of the the university’s founder, Thomas Jefferson, with a black tarp with placards that called him a “racist and rapist.”

“They shrouded the Jefferson statue, desecrating ground that many of us consider sacred,” Sullivan said in a letter to parents and alumni. “I strongly disagree with the protesters’ decision to cover the Jefferson statue.”

Dozens of students joined a protest led by Black Lives Matter Tuesday evening exactly one month after a white supremacist rally resulted in the death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer and two state police officers. The protesters scaled the statue and displayed a placard that read “TJ is a racist and rapist.” They later marched and chanted “no Trump, no KKK, no racist U.Va.,” around the Charlottesville campus.

The protest has cleared, but the shroud on the Thomas Jefferson statue at the Rotunda remains. pic.twitter.com/BqYtCEtH5q- Alexis Gravely (@_AlexisWasHere) September 13, 2017

Sullivan said Jefferson was a firm believer in freedom of speech and was no stranger to harsh media criticism in his time and that activism at the university he founded should come as no surprise.

“Thomas Jefferson was an ardent believer in freedom of expression, and he experienced plenty of abusive treatment from the newspapers of his day. He would likely not be surprised to find that when there are critical disagreements in the polity, those disagreements will find expression at his university,” Sullivan said.

She said one person was arrested for public intoxication and that she prefers that the spirited debate over free speech takes place through forums, guest speakers and panels.