Second public forum sees increase in voices supportive of keeping Confederate statues on campus

Jack Mitts

At the second of two public forums about confederate statues on the UT campus, supporters of keeping the statues more than doubled from the first forum.

More than 20 speakers were in favor of keeping the statues on campus, a dramatic difference from the first forum July 7, where a large majority of speakers supported removing the statues.

Greg Manning, the first speaker at Wednesday’s forum, said removing Confederate symbols from the U.S. threatens Southern culture.

“The actions I see going on across our country today, to me, are cultural genocide,” Manning said. “It is an attempt to wipe away a part of our culture and our country.”

The next 12 speakers agreed with Manning, who says the statues should remain where they are, but a majority of the almost 50 speakers were in favor of removing the statues.

“At UT, the Confederate statues also should have never been put up,” UT alumnus Vincent Harding said at Wednesday’s forum. “It was offensive then, and it is offensive now.”

More than 10 undergraduate and graduate students spoke at the forum.

Most students supported removing the statues from campus, but George Chidiac, rhetoric and writing and finance senior, said removing the statues could set a dangerous precedent and would be at odds with the University’s values of academic integrity and intellectual freedom.

Chidiac said he attended the forum because he wanted to advocate for the free exchange of ideas.

“I came to this University — we came — I thought,  to be challenged — not coddled,” Chidiac said. “I’m afraid that we’re turning, if we allow statues to be removed, this University from a marketplace of ideas into a daycare of children.”

Student Government President Xavier Rotnofsky and Vice President Rohit Mandalapu brought attention to the Jefferson Davis statue by making its removal one of the platform points in their campaign.

Following three incidents of vandalism to statues on campus, UT President Gregory Fenves appointed Gregory Vincent, vice president for the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement and chair of a 12-person task force, to evaluate the statues.

Vincent presided over both public forums to gather input from the public and said the task force has received more than 2,900 comments online and 60 phone calls regarding the statue. The deadline to submit comments or call is Wednesday night.

Mandalapu, who attended the forum and is a member of the task force, said the task force will move forward with input from the public forums, online comments and phone calls to make recommendations to Fenves.

“We want to factually and contextually present a list of actions to the president,” Mandalapu said.

The task force has until August 1 to submit their recommendations to Fenves.