Hofstra Students Erupt In Protest Over Thomas Jefferson Statue


Protests erupted on a Long Island, New York campus Friday as a coalition of Hofstra University students assembled to have a statue of Thomas Jefferson removed from its spot near the school’s primary eatery and organizational hub, and moved to the campus museum.
The protest, which began at noon and went until roughly 3pm, took place in a room just inside the Sondra and David S. Mack Student Center, the statue in question visible through a nearby window. It consisted of brief speeches from representatives of various campus organizations, with a set of ground rules projected on a screen behind them, some of which read: “speak from the I,” “no physical contact without explicit consent!” “No Hate Speech,” and “be the megaphone not the microphone.” Speeches came from members of the Hofstra Collegiate Women of Color, Campus Feminist Collective, Democrats of Hofstra University, and Young Democratic Socialists of America, among others.
A small effort of counter-protestors gathered as well, with calls coming from both sides to place the Founding Father, and owner of over 600 slaves, in appropriate historical context.
The organized effort to move the statue began with a petition created by student Ja’loni Owens two weeks ago, which aims to “remove the sculpture of Thomas Jefferson from in front of the Student Center and to no longer display it on campus.” The statue, which Owens noted was a gift from Hofstra trustee David S. Mack, was erected on the campus in 1999, a nod to the Jefferson-inspired, quadrangle architectural designs which are featured heavily across the campus.
“A sculpture like this belongs in a museum or archive with appropriate context, not displayed on a college campus, especially not in front of a hub of student life,” reads part of the petition, which has received 912 signatures as of Friday.
A counter-petition titled “KEEP The Jefferson Statue at Hofstra University” has received over 1,100 signatures and counting in three days since it as created by Hofstra student Richard Caldwell. Caldwell, who spoke at the protest, noted that he initially intended to withhold comment on the topic of the statue altogether, but felt he was forced to speak up “upon being labeled a white supremacist.”
Caldwell, center, began a petition of his own this week seeking to keep the Thomas Jefferson statue where it is.
“In the end,” Caldwell said at the protest, “we all just want equality. Nobody in this room thinks people should be treated differently for their race, gender, orientation, religion or anything like that. Nobody wants that.”
Both Caldwell’s speech and petition referred to the statue as “a conversation starter,” citing the work of Jefferson as a president and nation’s founder as the very reason for their ability to have such a debate.
Co-sponsors for the protest, however, believe that counter-efforts such as Caldwell’s prove there was little actual intent in taking part in a conversation over the statue’s presence on the campus, particularly on the heels of a last-second counter-protest effort.
“The[Hofstra] Republicans and their affiliates are counter-protesting, but they didn’t get the proper paperwork in to do so,” Hofstra student Adam Hockenberry told COED. Hockenberry, a junior, co-sponsored the protest through his chaptered organization Peace Action Matters, a ‘non-partisan student group dedicated to empowering student advocates and taking action on issues of peace and justice.’ According to Hockenberry, the protest was initially planned to be outside but was forced inside due to fears that the two groups would clash.
“If you think about it,” Hockenberry said, “they have actually been successful in inhibiting what Ja’loni set out to do here. That shouldn’t be the case, but it is.”

While the protest itself was civil, feelings were mixed when it came to how it was run and presented. Despite shouts of “let them speak!” among organizers during speeches by Caldwell and another student in opposition of the statue’s removal, some students still felt the protest, which eventually included outdoor chants of “Black Lives Matter” and “Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Jefferson has got to go!” was less than welcoming to all perspectives.
“I just think it was very improper how they presented themselves,” student Nick Castelli said. “They’re cursing every two seconds, yelling at people, saying that anyone who didn’t agree with them was racist.”
For others, however, the protest seemed to act as proof of the student body’s tolerance and organizational resolve.
“I’ve never experienced a protest like this,” said David Rivas, a student protester. “Having grown up in Texas, it’s rare that a counter-protester would even be given a chance to speak. So the fact that we’re once again sacrificing our voices in order to give white people a chance to make their argument on a stage we set up here speaks to the strength and nature of our efforts.”
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