COLUMBIA — In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote, "All men are created equal." On Wednesday, the words were plastered to his forehead.
Throughout the day, students covered the Jefferson statue on the east side of the Francis Quadrangle with sticky notes displaying messages such as “racist,” “rapist,” “slave owner” and “misogynist.” Someone added a drawing of a mustache and polka-dot bow tie.
In a campus plagued with questions regarding sexual assault and racism, some students have challenged the statue’s place on campus. In August, graduate student Maxwell Little started a petition on Change.org to remove the Jefferson statue.
The bronze statue was a gift from the trustees of the Jefferson Club and was installed in 2000 on MU's Campus to honor the history of the university, according to the Jefferson Club's website. MU was the first public university established within the territory of the Louisiana Purchase, which Jefferson lobbied to buy during his presidency.
But Little said he felt it was necessary to show "the other side of Thomas Jefferson" — not only the man depicted in mainstream history textbooks. Little said Jefferson was also a slave owner and rapist of a 16-year-old slave named Sally Hemings. Historians still dispute whether or not Jefferson fathered any of Hemings' children, according to Monticello.org.
** After months of the petition not getting the attention they wanted, Reuben Faloughi and Little teamed up with a group of students, including seniors Aliyah Sulaiman and Bryant Hill, to create #postyourstateofmind — a Twitter campaign dedicated "to engage people in a critical conversation" about sexual assault and racism.
“That was really the prime message behind it, was to engage,” Sulaiman said. “We wanted everyone to engage with us, and we wanted people to ask, ‘why are you doing this?’”
Over the course of the day on Wednesday, students and faculty came out to see the statue, some in solidarity and others in protest. Multiple people tried to remove the sticky notes from the statue.
The group was inspired by other universities, like the University of Texas, where a statue of Jefferson Davis, the leader of the Confederacy, was removed in August, and the University of Cape Town in South Africa, where a statue of colonialist Cecil Rhodes was removed in April.
The four students hope to change the campus climate, which they said marginalizes minority groups.
“It really is about creating that dialogue,” Hill said. “I don’t think in any way or form we’re trying to completely shove that down anybody’s throat, but just the idea of open dialogue and becoming more knowledgeable about the situation (is important). And then from there, you can become more critical about other aspects of what this campus does.”
The group wants to see Jefferson’s marble tombstone near the statue removed as well.
“Every day that it sits on campus, students are affected,” Faloughi said. “It’s a symbol of violence to many students. We talk about wanting to fix the culture of sexual violence and racism on campus, but that sits here. What really are the values of the University of Missouri?”
Supervising editor is Katie Kull.