We have previously discussed the removal university names, mascots, and symbols in recent years in response to student protests, including an effort to replace the GW “Colonial” mascot. I have previously expressed my concerns over the removal of long-held mascots and names in colleges from “the Cowboys” to “Shooter the Fox” to the Aztecs to the “Fighting Sioux” to “Chief Illini” to the “Prospectors.” Now, NPR Oregon reports, the University of Oregon is considering the removal of its iconic statue, “The Pioneer,” as its 100-year anniversary approaches. Students and faculty have denounced The Pioneers as, in the words on one students, “a monument to violence and white supremacy.”
History doctoral candidate Marc Carpenter told the Daily Emerald that there a statue celebrating European settlers is like a confederate monument in honoring “violence and white supremacy, and I don’t think those are values that we want to have as a community.”
Many critics are pointing to the dedication from May 1919 when the president of the Oregon Historical Society who “extolled the virtues of the Anglo-Saxon race” and hailed the settlers as part of a “race has large powers of assimilation, and its great ideas of liberty and of the rights of mankind caused other races to become a part of it, so it became a people as well as a race.”
There are indeed many such speeches of that period extolling the Anglo-Saxon race. However, that does not mean that the pioneers who ventured out West are unworthy of respect. These are people who faced extraordinary challenges and conditions to settle out West. That does not mean that the settlements were fair to Native American tribes or that there were not great injustices done to local tribes. Yet, these are often people fleeing their own desperation and seeking a new life on the frontier.
The University issued a statement that read:
“The Pioneer statue was unveiled 100 years ago to represent Oregon’s first European settlers. A century later, a more inclusive view of history recognizes that The Pioneer symbolizes just one part of the story. The UO fully appreciates that to many Oregonians, including those of Native American ancestry, it stands for something very different, the framing of history from only one culture’s perspective. We take those views very seriously.
Last winter, the UO established a presidential working group – led by Dean of Libraries Adriene Lim and Professor Dean Livelybrooks – to audit and review campus monuments, plaques and public art installations and recommend whether any changes need to be made to those features to recognize the diverse histories of our community. The Pioneer statue is part of that review, and the working group hopes to deliver a report, including recommendations, next fall. We are happy to share any research and information from outside organizations with that working group.”
The move at Oregon again raises the tendency to simply wipe away such symbols and references rather than to put them in context with both a degree of education and, yes, understanding. Indeed, the University is right that this is “just one part of the story” and that there is an entirely different (and equally compelling) Native American history. That is why statues to both histories can be found at Oregon and should be recognized as fundamental elements in the university’s history.
What do you think?