UT Student Government launches online survey on campus confederate statues

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(AUSTIN) KXAN — The student government at the University of Texas at Austin launched a campus survey on Saturday, polling students about how they feel about confederate statues on the 40 acres. They are looking to gather student opinion about the three remaining statues of confederate figures on the South Mall of the UT campus.

Those statues depict John H. Reagan (Confederate Postmaster General),  Albert S. Johnston (a Confederate general), and Robert E. Lee ( commander of the Confederate army).

“The survey results wont be identified as individuals but as an aggregate to send back to university leadership and there’s definitely a discussion going on there, and we are continuing that conversation and trying to do as much as possible to give that back to university leadership,” explained UT student body president Alejandrina Guzman.

The survey will remain open until 3 p.m. on Aug. 24. After that, all the answers will be compiled and analyzed. Anyone can take the survey, though the goal is to present university leaders with a picture of how UT Austin students feel about the statues.

UT Student Government also noted in their survey that over the past two years, public entities and campuses have launched into a discussion about the role of confederate monuments. Discussion about the significance and purpose of those statues has escalated over the last week after white supremacists protested the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee on the University of Virginia campus, leading to conflict between the protesters and counter protesters as well as injuries and the death of a counter protester.

Guzman said  students and administrators have been abuzz with discussions about these statues over the past week.

“It’s important because students here come from all over the country, all over the world and especially here at UT with our Confederate ties it’s important to get [students’] opinion on this because this is their university, they’re active, this is their space,” Guzman said.

Jace Masood, a third-year student at UT said he’s only heard the debate about these statues on campus in the past few weeks.

“They are historical emblems that we do need to learn about and acknowledge and not necessarily wipe away from the slate,” Masood said of the statues. “But the fact that they are put on a pedestal literally to be showcased? I do think it showcases university values that are being expressed. As well as, there are other things we can put up there.”

Masood said he thinks it’s important to re-evaluate historic objects on campus as the values on the UT campus evolve.

“I respect the university for making the hard choices in the first place, even if it puts them in the news and leads them to discourse that isn’t necessarily positive for them,” he said.

On Sunday, Edwin Robert who graduated from UT in 2016 returned to campus and spent some time looking at the statues.

“The current controversy over Confederate statues and plaques, certainly Robert E. Lee in particular, is why I’m here today, I was sitting at that statue when you arrived and came over here to see what was going on,” Robert explained to KXAN. “Because I’m interested in the current controversy, debate whatever you want to call it.”

Robert said that he’d like to return to UT for law school. He said the campus– and it’s statues– are very important to him

‘This is my Alma mater, this is where I learned to think, if you will, and so I have a certain image of it in my head and it doesn’t mean that image can’t change but if there’s a controversy going on I want to be informed,” Robert said. He hopes the university leaders consider the historical significance of these statues.

Robert worries that if the statues were put away in a museum, people wouldn’t have the chance to interact with them and learn from them with the same frequency they would on the UT campus.

“The value is in seeing them, that’s why they were put here in the first place, I don’t propose to know what George Littlefield was thinking when he put them here, I never met the man nor have I read any of the texts of his intentions, but I know they’ve had good effects since,” Robert said. “And I think we ought to be very careful in making any sort of change to such an important place as this.”

In 2015 UT Austin removed the statue of Jefferson Davis from the main mall and later put on display at the Briscoe Center.   At the time President Greg Fenves stated that Davis had few ties to Texas and didn’t fit in the category of the other statues on the main mall.

Fenves also said then in regards to Robert E Lee’s statue remaining at the mall that Lee’s “complicated legacy to Texas and the nation should not be reduced to his role in the civil War.”

Alejandrina Guzman watched the day the Davis statue was removed, she said remembering that event makes her very emotional.

“I think it was a very cool way for students to advocate for themselves,” she said. “I think it shows the power of the student voice.”

Six of the seven statues lining the university’s main mall prior to that time were commissioned by George Littlefield, a Confederate veteran and regent. Littlefield looked to preserve the history of the confederacy through these statues.

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