Fenves meets with SG leaders to discuss Jefferson Davis statue after online petition gains momentum

Matthew Adams

Following the outrage surrounding the removal of the Confederate flag from State Capital grounds in Charleston, South Carolina, the conversation of removing the Jefferson Davis statue on campus has started again.

On Sunday, Student Government, led by president Xavier Rotnofsky and vice-president Rohit Mandalapu, started a petition for President Gregory Fenves to remove the Jefferson Davis statue from the South Mall. Since then, students on Twitter have started a campaign, using the hashtag #NoDavisOnCampus, and have obtained 1,700 signatures on the petition as of Monday evening.

Although SG has already officially supported efforts to remove the Davis statue, Rotnofsky said the recent killing of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, has reignited the conversation around the statue.

“[Our] efforts gained momentum after the Charleston shooting sparked a national debate about the role of Confederate iconography in society,” Rotnofsky said. “This in turn sparked a response from students and alumni who feel that UT needs to address the confederate iconography on campus,” Rotnofsky said.

While there are many other Confederate leaders, including monuments to generals Robert E. Lee and Albert Sidney Johnson and confederate postmaster John H. Reagan, whose statues are in the Main Mall, Rotnofsky said Davis attracts the most attention because he was a slavery advocate and white supremacist.

History professor Jacqueline Jones said, while most people would want to see the other three statues taken down, she said the location of Davis’ statue is particularly offensive.

“Davis, though, has pride of place up there at the top of the Mall,” Jones said. “His positioning with [Woodrow] Wilson and [George] Washington suggests he is on par with those presidents—an idea that is offensive—since his aim was to destroy the nation that Washington helped to found.”

University spokesperson Gary Susswein said Fenves has made it his goal to address the concerns surrounding the statue. Fenves met with SG leaders Monday to discuss the petition and possible action regarding the statue.

“This is an issue [that] has been on the president’s agenda even before it became a petition,” Susswein said. “He is in the process of gathering information, and this afternoon he [met] with students leaders and discuss their concerns.”

As far as the other statues on campus, Susswein said they are not a part of the petition, so the discussions are focused only on the removal of the Jefferson Davis statue.

Susswein said the meeting between both sides was productive and provided good conversation. Susswein said Fenves is expected  to make a procedural announcement from the University regarding the issue later this week.