Memorialization and Mission

Our Grounds should embody our history, our mission, and our values

The President’s Commission on the University in the Age of Segregation (PCUAS) began deliberations in early 2019 regarding the built landscape at UVA. The discussion centered around guiding principles and a clear process for considering the built and named landscape—buildings, memorials, monuments, plazas, fields, and the like. How might we reconsider those places and spaces and make decisions about whether to rename, remove, or recontextualize them? The Memorialization on Grounds Committee took on the task of creating just such a set of principles and process. What follows is from the introduction to that PCUAS committee’s fine work in expressing a coherent set of guiding principles and outlining a clear process for doing so. We submitted it to President Ryan earlier this year and now share it publicly for your consideration. The full report is available here.

The University of Virginia’s mission statement, adopted by the Board of Visitors in 2013, makes clear UVA’s “unwavering support of a collaborative, diverse community bound together by distinctive foundational values of honor, integrity, trust, and respect.”

Those values are conveyed through the policies the University enacts, the programs and courses it offers, the students it graduates, the faculty and staff it hires — and, not least, in the names the University inscribes above the entrances to its buildings and the people it honors with statuary and monuments.

Yet the University’s Grounds are in fact marked with disturbing memorials and building names honoring various Confederates, slaveholders, eugenicists, and segregationists who not only shared the racism common among whites in their eras but actively promoted white supremacist ideologies. This inherited tradition, rafted on a Lost Cause mythology that argued that slavery was benign, that the Civil War was about state sovereignty, and that the postwar experiment in black citizenship was a failure, has come under increasing—and increasingly public—scrutiny.[1]

The misalignment between our inherited landscape and our current mission and values is a topic of increasingly public conversation. The editorial staff of the student newspaper argued that the university must disavow its association with one of our leading eugenicists.[2] A recent petition calls for the removal of the George Rogers Clark monument.[3] The Curry School of Education is actively reconsidering its namesake and the man honored by one of its building names.[4] Students have launched a campaign to rename Alderman Library.[5] These efforts have recently cohered in the establishment of a student committee actively working to examine the troubling history of monuments, buildings, and sites across Grounds.[6] And in a long tradition of advocating for change, students have also argued for greater recognition of sites associated with UVA’s history of slavery.[7]

It is the central conviction of our committee that architecture and landscape is a cultural product and historic buildings and their names embody the history and tradition—the culture—of the University of Virginia.[8] When our inherited buildings and their names are in direct conflict with our current mission and values, the University is obligated to respond. The decision to rename, remove, recontextualize, or let remain is one of the many choices we make to ensure alignment of our culture with our values. Failing to do so corrupts our long-standing commitment to honor and integrity.

[1] Elizabeth R. Varon, “UVA and the History of Race: The Lost Cause Through Judge Duke’s Eyes,” UVA Today, 9/4/2019. As a good overview of slavery at UVA, see Jennifer Oast, Institutional Slavery: Slaveholding Churches, Schools, Colleges, and Businesses in Virginia, 1680-1860  (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2016), pp. 175-240.

[2] Editorial Board, “The University’s hospital must disavow Paul Barringer and his legacy.” The Cavalier Daily, 2/13/2019.

[3] Bridget Starrs, “Local petition calls for U.Va. to remove George Rogers Clark status,” The Cavalier Daily 8/2/2019.

[4] Patrick Roney, “Curry School launches website about school namesakes,” The Cavalier Daily, 11/20/2019.

[5] Zach Rosenthal, “Flier posted around Grounds advocates for renaming of Alderman Library.” The Cavalier Daily, 9/18/2019.

[6] Katja Cresanti and Geremia Di Maro, “Student Council passes bill to create ad hoc committee to examine the history of monuments, buildings and historical areas on grounds.” The Cavalier Daily, 4/18/2019.

[7] Lydia Willcocks, “Interpretive panels placed in recognition of Gooch-Dillard cemetery,” The Cavalier Daily, 11/13/2019. Slavery at the University of Virginia: Visitor’s Guide (Charlottesville, Virginia: Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia, 2013) [brochure]

[8] These convictions are confirmed by a wide range of disciplines including architectural history, cultural landscapes studies, memory studies, and vernacular architecture to name just a few. Scholarship undergirding this framework appears in a number of journals including Buildings and Landscapes, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Memory Studies, and Journal of Cultural Geography among others.

Memorialization and Mission: PCUAS June 2020 Committee Report