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Thomas Jefferson statue to remain at Hofstra University

Hofstra University's Thomas Jefferson statue is seen in

Hofstra University's Thomas Jefferson statue is seen in March. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Hofstra University will keep a statue of Thomas Jefferson on campus but is establishing a task force to address students’ concerns about the founding father and slaveholder.

The school’s president, Stuart Rabinowitz, announced his decision roughly two months after several student groups had called for the statue to be removed. In March, students on both sides of the issue waged dueling protests near the statue, which is located outside the entrance to the student center.

Rabinowitz said he came to his decision after consulting with members of the university community — students, faculty, administration, alumni and trustees.

“The founding fathers represent the duality of the American character and the difficulty of our history: freedom and oppression, equality and injustice, in issues of race, gender, religion and origin,” he said in a statement posted on the university’s website Wednesday.

A senior who had launched a petition to get rid of the statue stood firm in calling for its removal.

“No student should be forced to look at a statue immortalizing a man who advocated for the enslavement of their ancestors,” said Ja’Loni Owens, 19, who organized the Jefferson Has Gotta Go! protest in March.

In response to the decision, the group wrote the school Thursday to demand a tip line where students can report abuse and bigotry, along with a universitywide program to track and make complaints public. Owens’ group also wants protection for students who file complaints, as well as cultural competency training for faculty.

Supporters of the statue — donated to the university nearly 20 years ago — have said that despite owning hundreds of black slaves, Jefferson was an early abolitionist who worked to end slavery.

Richard Caldwell, 19, a freshman who started a Change.org petition supporting the statue in March, said Jefferson was flawed but played an important role in the quest for freedom.

“This statue . . . is a gateway to conversation,” Caldwell said.

Rabinowitz said the task force will consider more dialogue and education about the founding fathers and slavery and “think about what freedom and equality mean at the University and . . . consider how we use history to advance understanding and build a better, more just world.”

Among the task force’s other considerations, Rabinowitz said, are an academic conference to study America’s founding and slavery, and new exhibits, artwork or contextualization for monuments and art on campus.

The task force will begin its work in the fall, he said.

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