Panelists unpack protests against confederate monuments

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Photo by Michelle Rivas

It’s not a debate over history,  according to Paul Reeve, professor of history at the University of Utah. The statues are manifestations of a reassertion of white supremacy, he said. The Black Student Union and University College organized a panel where they talked about the controversy surrounding the statue of Robert E. Lee Sept. 27 in the Classroom Building. As part of UVU’s Ethics Awareness Week, the four panelists were asked for their perspectives on what historical monuments symbolize to different people and the racial tensions in Charlottesville, VA.

“Historians have documented when these statues have been erected. They’re erected at moments when whites are attempting to reassert white supremacy,” he said. Reeves also said that local communities can vote to remove these statues. “If we’re really concerned about history, then let’s move them to a monuments graveyard where they can be properly interpreted.”

We should be very mindful, thoughtful and respectful of the monument when deciding to remove it or not according to Nancy Cannon, a counselor for TRIO. Cannon said that she thinks the locals should have the right to decide in a peaceful manner whether or not they want the confederate statue removed. Cannon also said that when she has visited battleground sites from the Civil War, it made her want to learn more about history.

To some people, the statues mean history, they mean “my ancestors”. But to many African American people they mean something else said Danny Davis, a political science major, who said that the core issues are simply racism. Davis said that race became on the public’s forefront with Obama’s election in 2008. “To Nancy Cannon, the monuments might not represent racism but to some groups they do,” Davis said.

Abdul Kalumbi, president of the BSU, said that there are 718 statues which are inspired by confederate history, and since Charlottesville there have been efforts to take down more. He also said that 54% of people in the United States don’t agree with the removal of monuments.

Reeves said that he’s heard a lot of slippery-slope arguments that if one statue is removed then they won’t stop. In response to Trump, Reeves said “Well, it will end when the monuments of the confederacy are taken down.”

We can’t just take down our history according to Travis Skene, a computer science major. Skene said that he didn’t think the removal of these statues would be a huge issue, but that we should show these monuments as educational opportunities which discuss the mistakes we’ve historically made.

Stormey Nielsen, the vice president of the BSU, said that she has mixed feelings because it’s just a statue, but in its historical context it was also racism. Nielsen, a social work major, said that she agrees with Reeves on how we have books for history and how racism can be intangible. “Regardless of whether the statue is there or not, there could still be that hatred,” she said. Nielsen said that even though she is compassionate for the uncomfortability the confederate statues bring, it would be productive to educate and talk about topics of diversity as well as self-reflection.