Jefferson Davis

Student Government Executive Alliance candidates Xavier Rotnofsky and Rohit Mandalapu filed a resolution to SG on Friday supporting the removal of the Jefferson Davis statue on campus.
Photo Credit: Ellyn Snider | Daily Texan Staff

In its last Assembly meeting of the term, Student Government passed four resolutions, including a resolution supporting the removal of the statue of Confederate leader Jefferson Davis from campus.

“It goes without saying that [Davis’] legacy continues to affect us today,” Vice President-elect Rohit Mandalapu said. “This statue serves as a permanent reminder of the atrocities committed against fellow humans.”

The issue primarily garnered attention after Mandalapu and SG President-elect Xavier Rotnofsky made the statue’s removal a platform point during their campaign. The University has never taken action regarding the statue, which has been surrounded by controversy in recent years. Rotnofsky said the statue should be removed and students should be able to pick another statue to take Jefferson Davis’ place. 

“We still see the unrest and the negative campus climate [the statue] causes,” Rotnofsky said. “As Larry Faulkner, former president, suggested, let’s put him in the Bob Bullock Museum, where history is preserved.” 

A nearly unanimous vote approved the resolution. 

The Assembly also passed resolutions in support of allowing UT System student regents to have voting privileges and in support of recognizing a Texas Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The Assembly lastly voted on a resolution in support of the Texas Dream Act, a law that would allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at universities.  

The Assembly tabled one heavily debated piece of legislation — a resolution supporting the creation of a pamphlet, which outlines many instances of racism in the University’s history. The pamphlet is not yet complete, but some Assembly members expressed concern over the content of the pamphlet, which would be distributed in each course with a cultural diversity flag.

“[The pamphlet] incentivizes students to make negative opinions on their University based on what we see here,” engineering representative Edward Banner said. ”They should love their University, and I think this is the exact opposite.”

Magee said the pamphlet’s purpose should be to educate students about race issues at UT — not to boost student opinion of the University. 

“The students that are oppressed and marginalized deal with [discrimination] on a daily basis,” said Amber Magee, director of the Diversity and Inclusion Agency. “I think that we are doing a good job, and we’re doing better than we were 75 years ago, but we are not there yet.”

Several Assembly members expressed concern about voting on the pamphlet before its content was finalized, prompting the Assembly to table the legislation. However, because Tuesday was the last Assembly meeting of the semester, the bill will likely be resubmitted to Assembly during the next term, instead of being sent back to committee. 

Current President Kori Rady’s and Vice President Taylor Strickland’s term ends April 7th, and Rotnofsky and Mandalapu will be inducted the same day. 

The SG 108th Assembly passed more than 35 resolutions during the 2014–2015 term.

As someone who has followed the Six Pack statue controversy since the late 1980s, I feel obligated to respond to the current advocacy by two SG presidential tickets and the Daily Texan Editorial Board to remove the statue of Jefferson Davis. 

Contrary to current conventional wisdom, the statue of Davis was not erected in 1933 to glorify white supremacy. Instead, the Davis statue, along with the other five Six Pack statues and the Littlefield Fountain, together form one complete work of art intended to memorialize the 97 Longhorns killed in World War I and to acknowledge that WWI had finally reunited the American North and South, 50 years after our Civil War. 

Hence, the statue of Davis, president of the Confederacy, sits on the west side of the Main Mall, and the statue of Woodrow Wilson, US president during WWI, sits on the east side. Sculptor Pompeo Coppini and architect Paul Cret did not make these choices randomly. Due to a lack of funds, the statue of George Washington was not completed by Coppini until 1955. Far from being a glorification of white privilege, the Littlefield Memorial Entrance Gate, consisting of the fountain and six statues, was created as a conciliatory acknowledgement that the wounds from the Civil War were finally beginning to heal.

Also, efforts were undertaken by UT students in the early 1990s to remove the Davis statue as well as the statues of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Albert Sidney Johnston. A few years later, the game plan changed. Instead of removing statues, attempts were made to build a more diverse set of statues. Hence, the unveiling of the MLK statue on the UT campus in 1999, the statue of Cesar Chavez in 2007 and the statue of Barbara Jordan in 2009.

This second strategy is far more sound. Instead of removing statues and memorials that ably served their purpose in the world of the 1930s, we should simply add more statues to reflect the current worldview.

— Clark Patterson, UT alumnus, in response to the Tuesday editorial titled "Jefferson Davis statue removal legislation offers us hope for future of SG." 

In 2010, at the request of President William Powers Jr., the UT System Board of Regents voted to rename a residence hall honoring William Simkins. Although Simkins was a longtime School of Law faculty member, the regents rightly found that his good on campus was outweighed by his associations with both the Confederacy during the Civil War and the Ku Klux Klan thereafter. 

Simkins, at the very least, had ties to the UT community. Jefferson Davis, the Confederate president, did not. Yet there is still a large and grand statue on campus honoring Davis. Accordingly, Xavier Rotnofsky and Rohit Mandalapu, candidates for Student Government president and vice president, respectively, recently filed legislation in the SG Assembly to remove the statue. 

Tellingly, Braydon Jones, the other Student Government presidential candidate in this week's runoff election and also the speaker of the Assembly, has co-sponsored this resolution. Thus, we can say with some certainty that the next president will support the toppling of this celebration of a harmful past. 

Davis and other Confederate leaders betrayed this country by attempting to secede and fighting an armed insurrection to that effect. Though revisionist references to their justification point to states' rights, the major reason for the conflict was the continuation of slavery. Or rather, to be generous to the states' rights camp, the states' right to enslave human beings. 

When the statue of Davis was erected in the early part of the 20th century, Jim Crow still reigned supreme in Texas, and few at this University stopped to consider the offensiveness of such actions to African-Americans and other minorities. (The campus was not yet integrated.) 

Sadly, many will complain that the removal of the statue would somehow censor the past or revise history, when nothing could be further from the truth. Tributes to Davis and other prominent Confederates were only launched at the height of Jim Crow in an effort to whitewash the atrocities of antebellum Dixie. Removing the statue would not cause students and others to not learn about Davis; rather, it would allow them to learn about him the right way, critically and in a classroom. (This campus has plenty of those.) 

There are countless other wrongs on this front that the University should right sooner rather than later, including a number of other offensive statues. But the tribute to Davis is the very worst and should be dealt with most immediately. Thankfully, there is now good reason to believe that someone, either a President Jones or a President Rotnofsky, will try to do something about it.

Student Government Executive Alliance candidates Xavier Rotnofsky and Rohit Mandalapu filed a resolution to SG on Friday supporting the removal of the Jefferson Davis statue on campus.
Photo Credit: Ellyn Snider | Daily Texan Staff

Xavier Rotnofsky and Rohit Mandalapu, candidates in the Student Government Executive Alliance runoff, filed a resolution to SG on Friday that would support the removal of the Jefferson Davis statue on campus.

Braydon Jones, who is running against Rotnofsky for the presidency, was one of the resolution’s three co-sponsors.

“We might be one of the first candidates to author a resolution that will go to Assembly,” Mandalapu said. “We want to leave our mark, regardless of whether we win.”

The statue’s removal was one of Rotnofsky-Mandalapu’s original platform points. Rotnofsky said the team did not want to wait until after the election to start lobbying for the statue’s removal.

“To put him on a pedestal, quite literally, is wrong,” Rotnofsky said.

The statue’s presence on campus has sparked controversy in the past because of Davis’ status as a Confederate leader. Last weekend, the statue was temporarily defaced with the word “CHUMP” written on the statue’s base in blue chalk.   

“Whereas, Jefferson Davis argued vociferously that the institutions of American slavery were beneficial; and ... whereas, The University of Texas at Austin as a public institution of the State of Texas that represents a diverse student population should not condone or promote Jefferson Davis’ values that are offensive to the student body … be it further resolved, the University of Texas at Austin Student Government fully endorses the removal of the Jefferson Davis statue from campus,” the resolution read.  

Rotnofsky and Mandalapu, who wrote the resolution with Chris Gilman, editor-in-chief of the Texas Travesty, and Plan II senior Ciaran Dean-Jones, also cited historical precedent for altering campus symbols that “do not align with the values and ideals of the student body.”

In 2010, at the request of UT President William Powers Jr., the UT System Board of Regents unanimously voted to rename Simkins Residence Hall to Creekside Residence Hall. The hall was originally named for William Simkins, a UT law professor and Confederate solider who was also a Florida Ku Klux Klan leader.

After three pages of factually-based arguments in favor of the statue’s removal, Rotnofsky and Mandalapu also cited former Nickelodeon show “Drake and Josh.”

“Be it resolved, that Drake and Josh was one of Nickelodeon’s most celebrated TV shows…they would have never supported a Jefferson Davis statue on the program,” they wrote.

Jones, who is currently speaker of the SG Assembly, said the resolution ties into his campaign, although it was not a part of his and his running mate Kimia Dargahi’s official platform.  

“I think it’s a perfect example of what our campaign stands for,” Jones said. “I think it’s a great example of listening to students. Now we’re going to look into what students want. … I’m looking forward to the conversation.”

Dargahi is not currently in SG but served as the federal relations agency director in 2013. Neither Rotnofsky nor Mandalapu are currently involved in SG. Any University student is allowed to author a resolution.

The resolution will be presented to the SG Assembly on Tuesday and sent to a committee after. If the committee approves the resolution, the Assembly will vote on the resolution in the coming weeks.   

“With all the talk that has been going on, with all the attention that [Xavier and Rohit] brought to this issue, I think this is a great time,” Jones said.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Grace Gilker

The Jefferson Davis statue on the South Mall was temporarily defaced by a blue-chalk “CHUMP,” with an arrow pointing up to Davis, scrawled on the statue’s base early Friday morning. It has since been removed. 

The statue has long been a source of controversy for the University because Davis was the president of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War.

SG Executive Alliance candidate Xavier Rotnofsky, a Plan II junior, said he and his running mate Plan II senior Rohit Mandalapu, made the removal of the Davis statue on the South Mall a major part of their platform. 

“I’m running for student body president with this satirical campaign, [but] we made it one of our platform points to remove the Jefferson Davis statue,” Rotnofsky said. “We said we want to take down the Jefferson Davis statue because it’s not okay that it’s still on campus.”

After University Democrats distributed a survey to all Student Government candidates asking about their stance on the statue’s presence, Executive Alliance candidates Braydon Jones, a government senior, and Kimia Dargahi, an international relations and global studies and Middle Eastern studies senior, said they also support the statue’s removal.

“Braydon and Kimia do not support the vandalism of university property, but we do understand that it represents a part of US history that is not inclusive and creates such a culture on the Forty Acres,” they said in a statement to The Daily Texan on Sunday. “As we have said, statues on campus represent a part of history, for better or for worse … Whether it is physical monuments or the intangible cultural climate present on the Forty Acres, we will continue to advocate for an inclusive campus.”

Executive Alliance candidate David Maly, an economics and journalism senior, said although he does not support graffiti in any situation, he also does not support the presence of Jefferson Davis on the South Mall.

“I think that it’s wrong for UT to celebrate the racist past of our nation,“ Maly said. “I don’t think graffiti is ever okay. But I think that displaying our nation’s racist past with a statue does put students in a difficult position. I don’t condone defaming public property ever, or support it.”

University Democrats communications director Ashley Alcantara, an international relations and global studies senior, said UDems included the question regarding the Davis statue to find out the Executive Alliance candidates’ opinions of the statue remaining on campus. 

“We were actually inspired by Rotnofsky and Mandalapu’s inclusion of the issue in their platform and wanted to know what all of the candidates’ positions were on the issue, as these statues are construed as offensive to many people,” Alcantara said.

Plan II freshman Grace Gilker said the graffiti pushed her to think critically about the statue’s presence.

“In terms of the word choices, it was so anachronistic — the people who graffitied it used chalk,” Gilker said. “They were smart protestors — not just hooligans with spray paint they were trying to make a statement.”

Amid further controversy regarding the politicization of Texas public school textbooks, it is time not only for the Powers administration but also UT faculty and students to evaluate the true significance of the statues of Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee, among others, which stand in the heart of our campus. 

A report released this month from the nonpartisan Texas Freedom Network Education Fund, debated in a point/counterpoint in this paper last week, found numerous instances of politically fueled bias in government, Texas, U.S. and world history textbooks. These included comic strips trivializing affirmative action as well as the statement that, during segregation, “Sometimes … the buildings, buses, and teachers for the all-black schools were lower in quality,” which is a significant understatement. Not only do these textbooks effectively whitewash the history of the Jim Crow South, but they are, according to a report, a statement that “understates the tremendous and widespread disadvantages of African-American schools compared to white schools.”

There was so much bias, in fact, that the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute wrote, “The complicated but undeniable history of separation of church and state is dismissed” as well as textbooks undermining the fact that slavery was “the actual trigger for the sectional crisis.”

In the year 2014, this kind of revisionist history ought to be seriously reassessed. However, young students are not the only ones who will feel the consequences of agenda-fueled education.

“My heart is out as well to the students who come to my classrooms at SMU from the study of history in the Texas public schools,” wrote Edward Countryman, a history professor at Southern Methodist University, in his opening statement in his report on proposed Texas, U.S. and world history textbooks. “[I]f they have not taken Advanced Placement history, they are woefully underprepared for the college-level study of history.” 

Just as the Texas State Board of Education’s primary goal is likely not to directly misinform young students, the statues of Jefferson Davis, Albert S. Johnston and Robert E. Lee are not intended by the university to directly represent exclusion and the institution (and perpetuation) of slavery. Rather, these statues are presumably meant to reveal the pride Southerners feel regarding their legacy of rebellion and independence. Though this rationale is good enough for many, it is not good enough for a collegiate community concerned that certain statues represent blatant racism. 

In 2006, President William Powers, Jr. reacted to student-fueled sentiment regarding the removal of certain statues on campus. “[T]he statues have been here for a long time, and that’s something we have to take into account as well,” said Powers after forming an advisory committee, which to this day has no written proof of action. His argument based on tradition is not wholly dissimilar to arguments made in favor of the continuance of slavery in the 19th century, as well as many other contemporary polarizing social issues, including the fight for workplace equality and same-sex marriage. So why is it an argument that is considered valid in 2014?

We need look no further than into our own University’s history to find a complicated and nuanced relationship with race. We are a university that did not racially integrate until mandated to do so by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1950 Sweatt v. Painter case. We are a university that recently has been an epicenter in the debate over affirmative action, from a Supreme Court case to a controversial on-campus bake sale. Race has been and will continue to be an incredibly sensitive issue, and to deny this would imply revisionist history. 

Anyone who has followed the recent controversy surrounding the Washington Redskins football team’s name can attest to the fact that symbolic imagery is important. Images that were considered benign 50, 20, 10 and perhaps even five years ago have taken on an entirely new meaning in our world of heightened sensitivity, especially with regards to race. All aspects of our proud and often ugly history ought to be taught and learned objectively. But by erecting statues in the names of Jefferson Davis, et al., we are also choosing which figures of our history we prioritize and stand behind. Do we choose to represent the ideals of equality, democracy and the acquisition of power through struggle, or do we choose to represent exclusion and the fight to maintain slavery at the cost of hundreds of thousands of American lives?

Sundin is an English and radio-television-film senior from San Antonio.