A group of Columbia University students might be reading a little too much into a sculpture that has stood on campus for 103 years. The college’s statue of Thomas Jefferson, located in front of Pulitzer Hall, is now seen by some as a “a symbol of violence against black and brown bodies.”
A group calling themselves the Mobilized African Diaspora – or MAD, have made some absurd demands from the school, from hiring more black faculty, to the school forcing undergraduate students to take compulsory diversity classes. Most recently, however, the group covered the Jefferson statue with a Ku Klux Klan hood and posed in front of it with anti-Jefferson signs in a symbolic protest gesture, according to a photo MAD posted on its Facebook page.
“By portraying him as a klansman, a direct representation of the ideals he believed in, we are contextualizing his racist and sexist legacy,” the group’s Facebook post said. “Only when Jefferson’s face is hidden in this manner can the sinister reality of his actions and legacy be realized. Naturally, the University removed the display after half an hour, thus continuing its tradition of silencing Black voices.”
MAD only formed last year and, bravely, has no public members, however, the group describes itself on its Facebook page as “organizing against racism and structural oppression.” Their recent online post about Jefferson claims that “venerating Thomas validates rape, sexual violence, and racism on this campus,” somehow believing it poses the same threat to minorities as the KKK.
This latest protest isn’t the first time college students have targeted a statue of Thomas Jefferson, either. In late 2015, students at the University of Missouri called on administrators to remove a Jefferson statue and covered it with sticky notes displaying messages such as, ‘racist,’ ‘rapist,’ ‘slave owner’ and ‘misogynist.’ The Missouri protest was inspired by the removal of a Jefferson Davis statue from the University of Texas and now MAD is hoping for a similar result at Columbia.
Columbia University students are well-known for their activism, especially of a racial nature. Most famously, students hit the streets and barricaded themselves inside Hamilton Hall in 1968 to protest, among other issues, the school’s construction of a gymnasium in Morningside Park which students viewed as an act of aggression against black residents in neighboring Harlem. Police had to be called to arrest and remove protestors by force.