University removes bust of namesake because he owned slaves
Caving to national trends, Stockton University in New Jersey has removed a bust of its namesake from the campus library because he was a slave owner.
In a letter to the university community, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Lori Vermeulen informed the school of the administration’s decision to remove the bust of Richard Stockton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence who also owned slaves.
According to the Press of Atlantic City, Vermeulen explained that the statue will eventually return to campus with an accompanying display discussing Stockton’s controversial past.
University President Harvey Kesselman noted that the debate surrounding his university’s namesake has been ongoing since the school’s founding, arguing that the bust “was never placed” in the appropriate “context.”
Kesselman went on to admit that the timing is not a coincidence, citing recent events in Charlottesville and at the University of Virginia.
“Particularly at public institutions of higher education, it’s a marketplace of ideas. One of the things that can happen is it is a place where people are able to express themselves, hopefully in civil ways to discuss issues of relevance to them,” he added, though some students called the decision an “overreaction.”
“I think removing the bust is an overreaction,” said student Dylan Perry. “The real problem in our nation is not statues of historical figures. Rather the problem is that we have people in our nation with hate in their hearts.”
Vermeulen, however, stood by the decision, calling it “a really great opportunity for a teachable moment” and saying that “it’s really going to provide a good opportunity for our student and the community at large.”
Similarly, Bryn Mawr College is separating itself from one its former presidents, M. Carey Thomas, a leading suffragist who held racist and anti-Semitic views.
Accordingly, the college will no longer use the technical names of buildings on campus bearing her name, such as the Thomas Great Hall and Thomas Library, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports.
“While Thomas had a profound impact on opportunities for women in higher education, on the academic development and identity of Bryn Mawr, and on the physical plan of the campus, she also openly and vigorously advanced racism and anti-Semitism as part of her vision of the college,” President Kim Cassidy told The Inquirer. “We will make a concerted effort to remove as many references to the name as is possible for this year.”
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