Jefferson Statue Outside Hofstra University Student Center Stirs Controversy

Student activists from Hofstra University protested the presence of a Thomas Jefferson statue displayed at the entrance of the Student Center, and the administration’s objection to take it down.

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Three students stand in front of Thomas Jefferson statue with posters

Protesters argued that Jefferson owned slaves, was a rapist, and believed in eugenics. 

JaLoni Owens was one of the student organizers of the “Jefferson Has Gotta Go!” protest. Owens started a petition on Change.org, which reached just over 900 signatures, and created a Facebook event which kept students who wanted to be involved updated.   

Owens felt there was not any historical context for the Jefferson statue’s presence on Hofstra’s campus.

“Black students have been doing this for at least 13 years,” said Owens. “I felt [organizing the protest] was my obligation because we shouldn’t have to look at someone who owned people who looked like us . . . and who was instrumental in creating the systems that are still oppressing us.” 

The protest was co-sponsored by the Campus Feminist Collective, Collegiate Women of Color, the College Democrats, the Hofstra Chapter of the NAACP, Peace Action Matters, the Queer and Trans People of Color Coalition, Student Advocates of Safer Sex, the Gender Identity Federation, The Pride Network, and Hofstra’s chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America. Many of these groups had a chance to voice their opinion during a two hour discussion inside the Student Center.

Michelle Boo, Vice President of the Queer and Trans People of Color Coalition, found out last year that the statue was of Thomas Jefferson and decided it had to go. 

“He stands for a lot of things that I don’t agree with; like racism, sexism, eugenics. Instead of getting the statue removed, we got a statue of Frederick Douglass instead,” said Boo.

Lola Solis, who is hispanic, was amongst various speakers at the protest.  

“Don’t tell me [Jefferson] gave me rights because he didn’t, he took them away from me a century before when America stole Mexico’s land,” said Solis. “I don’t really give a sh*t about anything that created America. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution didn’t do anything for people of color, queer people, non binary people or anybody else except for white straight men.”   

Along with the protest to remove the Jefferson statue was a counter-protest to leave the statue in its place.

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Group of counter-protesters

Hofstra student Josh Jordan was a part of the group that opposed the removal of the statue.

“This entire ploy to get Jefferson taken down is a little ridiculous if you’ve read his works,” said Jordan. “He was a very big proponent of abolishing slavery. He called slavery a moral depravity and a blot on society.”   

Jordan wishes the opposing side had more of a voice during the discussion. 

“Conversation is good,” he said. “We should have been given more of a platform as a counter-protest, but I appreciate the discourse. It’s important to hear both sides so we have an ability to really voice our side of things regardless of what we believe or they believe.”

Another member of the counter-protest, Dylan Sandas, says the history and facts just don’t line up. 

“I feel it’s wrong to judge people on morals that weren’t available to them when they were alive. Jefferson died in 1826; the 13th Amendment wasn’t passed until 1866,” he said. 

Sandas said the representation in the room was disproportionate.

“The counter Change.org petition got 1,000 signatures in two days, while the regular only got less than 900 in two weeks,” said Sandas. “While it might not have been reflected in the room, it’s definitely going to be reflected in the public.”  

Following the speeches in the Student Center, activists proceeded outside to chant and display their banners.

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Students chanting in protest

“Hey hey, ho ho, Jefferson has got to go,” the students shouted near the parking lot.

Owens hopes their cries will be heard at last.

“I would like people to finally hear us,” said Owens. “We have just been yelling and pleading for 13 years. I want someone to finally say I hear you, and we’re going to remove the statue from the Student Center.”

All photos courtesy of Jennifer Goldstein