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Task Force Will Examine Future of Jefferson Davis Statue Amid Call For Its Removal

JeffDavisStatue.jpg
Courtesy of students' petition at change.org
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Update: UT Austin President Greg Fenves announced this morning the members of a 12-person task force that will discuss the future of the Jefferson Davis statue on campus. 

UT Austin's Student Government and Graduate Student Assembly want the statue of Davis removed and placed in a museum. Earlier this week, Fenves met with students to discuss their concerns.

The task force has three directives: analyze the artistic, social and political intent of the statue, review previous controversies over statues on the Main Mall, and develop alternative Main Mall statues. The group must present pros and cons for each alternative. 

“To that end, the task force should ensure its work accurately represents history, values the fundamental principle that all people deserve respect and serves to ensure these principles are preserved for the benefit of future students,” Fenves wrote in his charge to the group.

Here are the 12 task force members:

Gregory J. Vincent, Vice President for Diversity and Community Engagement (chair)

Laura Beckworth, Law School alumna; Chair of UT Austin Development Board

Daina Berry, Associate Professor, Departments of History and African and African Diaspora Studies

Hector de Leon, Law School Alumnus; past president of both the UT Law Alumni Association and the Texas Exes; 2010 Distinguished Alumnus

Edmund “Ted” Gordon, Chair, Department of African and African Diaspora Studies

Rohit Mandalapu, Vice President, Student Government; Senior, College of Liberal Arts

Carlos Martinez, Associate Vice President for Governmental Relations

Lorraine Pangle, Co-director, Thomas Jefferson Center for the Study of Core Texts and Ideas; Professor, Department of Government

Xavier Rotnofsky, President, Student Government; Senior, College of Liberal Arts

Frederick “Fritz” Steiner, Dean, School of Architecture

Marisa Swanson, President, Social Work Council; Member, Senate of College Councils; Senior, School of Social Work and College of Liberal Arts

Brian Wilkey, President, Graduate Student Assembly; Graduate Student, College of Natural Sciences

Original Story (6/23/15): In the wake of a national conversation on confederate symbols, which led South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to announce Monday that the confederate flag would be taken down from the state Capitol building, some are bringing attention to the confederate symbols still standing here in Austin.

The president of University of Texas at Austin, Greg Fenves, met Monday with student leaders who are demanding a statue of Jefferson Davis be removed from the school's campus. Davis owned dozens of slaves and was president of the Confederacy during the Civil War. 

Tuesday 5 p.m. UT's Vice President for the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, Gregory Vincent, spoke at a press conference this afternoon to announce the school's plan for a task force to help evaluate options for the Jefferson Davis statue's future.

You can listen to the raw audio from Vincent's press conference here: 

Tuesday 3:30 p.m.Fenves sent out a statement today saying that he'll be forming a committee, or "task force," to decide what to do with the Davis statue. The committee will be chaired by Dr. Gregory Vincent, Vice President for the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement at UT.

Fenves also tweeted that he'll be announcing the committee, which will "evaluate alternatives," on Wednesday. Fenves will have the final say on what happens to the statue.

Tuesday 10 a.m. Overnight, someone spray-painted "Black Lives Matter" on the pillars on which two of the statues stand. University officials had the graffiti scrubbed off Tuesday morning. The students' petition on change.org now has more than 2,200 signatures.

confederate_statue_01.jpg
Credit Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT News
During the night Monday, someone spray-painted under statues of Confederate figures on the UT Austin campus.

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Credit Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT News
UT Austin president Greg Fenves is considering the students' request to remove the statue, which was scrubbed of graffiti Tuesday morning. Fenves' spokesperson says the president will have a response this week.

Original story: "We just believe the statue represents a history of racism and intolerance, and it has no place on this campus, which is a beacon of bringing all different kinds of people together and promoting diversity," says Taral Patel, chief of staff for the UT Student Government.

An online petition for removal of the statue has racked up more than 1,500 signatures since it was posted Sunday afternoon on change.org. 

"It feels very degrading to us, and unwelcoming. And I think that if we pay the same amount of tuition as everybody else, we have the right to feel as welcome as everybody else does," says Abigail Haile, an African American UT undergrad who signed the petition.

A university spokesperson says Fenves takes the issue seriously and has been gathering information on it since he took office about two weeks ago. 

"The student and university leaders will work collaboratively to continue gathering all of the information and perspectives needed to make a decision about the statue," spokesperson Gary Susswein said via email.

As for next steps, Susswein says the office will make an announcement, though not a final decision, later this week.

*This story is being updated as it develops.

**This story originally identified a statue of Albert Sidney Johnston as a statue of Jefferson Davis. Johnston was a general in the Confederate army. That statue was also graffitied also.

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