[Updated (11/14/2016, 4:12 p.m.) with a response from the university’s president.]
Professors and students at the University of Virginia have sent a letter to their president, asking her to refrain from quoting Thomas Jefferson in her communications to students, The Cavalier Daily reports.
In a postelection email urging unity that was sent to students on Wednesday, Teresa A. Sullivan included a quotation from a letter in which the nation’s third president praised students at UVa.
“Thomas Jefferson wrote to a friend that University of Virginia students ‘are not of ordinary significance only: they are exactly the persons who are to succeed to the government of our country, and to rule its future enmities, its friendships and fortunes,’” the email read.
The letter, which had nearly 500 signatures when it was sent on Friday, argued that Jefferson’s legacy as a slaveowner “undermines the message of unity, equality, and civility” that the email intended.
“We would like for our administration to understand that although some members of this community may have come to this university because of Thomas Jefferson’s legacy,” the letter said, “others of us came here in spite of it.”
In a statement responding to the letter, Ms. Sullivan said she had quoted Jefferson because she agreed with the particular sentiment he had expressed about UVa students, not because she endorsed “all the social structures and beliefs of his time, such as slavery and the exclusion of women and people of color from the university.”