KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Despite a petition with thousands of signatures, the University of Missouri said it will not remove a statue of Thomas Jefferson from its Columbia campus.
Roman Leapheart, who started the change.org petition, said he’s not giving up hope and this isn’t the time to stop.
“It’s heartbreaking to every other student who fought for this and didn’t get, you know, the outcome they wanted,” Leapheart said.
“People think talk is cheap. But I think talk is beautiful because, you know, if we didn’t get the conversation started now, when would it get started again?”
After a closed door discussion, school officials announced Friday morning they will not remove the statue. Instead, Interim Chancellor Mun Choi said he challenges students and faculty to find a way to put the statue into context.
In a statement, Choi said:
“The conversation was an example of the power of civil discourse and included discussion of complex issues and different perspectives. After further discussion with other curators, the university decided not to remove the Jefferson statue.
“We learn from history. We contextualize historical figures with complex legacies. We don’t remove history. We are committed to maintaining open lines of communication, including continuing conversations and learning from all involved.”
Leapheart said he’s against the monument because of Jefferson’s past of owning and treatment of slaves.
He suggested replacing the statue with a unity bench, rather than any other historical figure.
“Thomas Jefferson does not represent the students of Mizzou. The students at Mizzou, we fight for inclusivity. We fight for victims rights, and we fight for each other,” Leapheart said.
“What people think is, ‘Oh, we want to tear down history, or we want to hurt our university.’ We’re doing this because we love our university.”
There was also a counter petition, with around 700 signatures from people who opposed the removal of the statue.
With more than 3,000 signatures, Leapheart said his original petition will remain online.
Students also petitioned to have the statue removed in 2015.