The College of William and Mary is a lot of things to a lot of people. It’s a place where you might get pooped and pissed on. It also happens to be the 2nd-oldest college in America. When a school’s been around since the 17th century, it’s kind of a given that a significant chunk of its alumni would have had, let’s say, different views on race relations than most of us have now. Founding father Thomas Jefferson is one of WM’s more famous alums, and all of a sudden the student body is plastering his statue with post-it notes, as though they just learned that this guy may have been a bit cagey with the whole “all men are created equal” thing:
— The Flat Hat (@theflathat) November 9, 2015
That’s way harsh, Tai. The degree to which Jefferson was an actual racist versus just kind of caught up in the customs of his time is hotly disputed, and also beside the point because we’re incapable of putting the time in context, nor do we need to (hint: It was very, very bad for non-whites). The milquetoast protest seems inspired by a similar movement at the University of Missouri, and at least one William and Mary student journalist just can’t seem to take sides:
“Just thinking about which side to take boggles my mind. Should I take the side of the posters and insult a great founder, or should I take the side of the anti-posters and possibly be labeled a racist? I needed help.”
No you don’t. You don’t need to take sides. You can, very simply, acknowledge TJ’s significant and revolutionary contributions to American democracy while (also very simply) acknowledging that racism is bad and that the implicit and explicit endorsement of slavery by the framers is something of a black mark on their legacy. There are some real and important conversations going on at places like Mizzou and Yale, and involving more people across the country is typically a good thing. Just don’t plaster a statue in post-it notes because you’re mad you couldn’t get into the school TJ built himself.
College students — they’re just like us (except both more passionate and misguided)!