June 15, 2020
Dear University of Oregon community,
There is no question we are living in a moment when our nation is painfully coming to grips with the reality of systemic racism that has been woven into the fabric of our society for generations. Racism exists despite the bloody battles of the Civil War, despite protections guaranteed by the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments, despite the hard-fought victories of the Civil Rights movement, and despite more recent efforts of individuals and institutions to consciously promote diversity and inclusion. Events of the last few weeks have sadly demonstrated that racists in our country still kill Black people and other people of color. Racism still endures within our nation’s power structure, and racism still keeps Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Asian people from equal access to health care, education, justice, economic prosperity, and so much more. People are angry, people are hurt, people are enraged.
On Saturday, what some consider to be symbols of racism and oppression on our campus were targeted by an anonymous group of protestors. Both the Pioneer and Pioneer Mother statues were torn from their pedestals and vandalized in dramatic fashion. While I strongly believe in the power of peaceful protest and the right to free expression and dissent, I condemn these acts of destruction. What happened Saturday evening was unacceptable.
Last week I told the University Senate that the institution would move forward with a process of determining whether the Pioneer statues—as well as other historic monuments and artwork on campus that may be viewed as symbols of oppression—should be taken down. I regret that we will no longer have the opportunity for that type of deliberative and inclusive process. Nevertheless, we need to move forward as a community.
One of the long-standing challenges with the Pioneer statues was their lack of contextualization and materials to fully explain their complicated meaning—both good and bad. Therefore, I will ask the Committee on Recognizing Our Diverse History to work with our museums to explore permanent installations or other opportunities to exhibit the statues in a manner that places them in appropriate historical context. In the meantime, the statues have both been put into storage. Neither statue will go back to their previous places of prominence on campus.
These are incredibly difficult times. Removing or relocating a statue or a piece of art does not change the need for the hard work of confronting racism that is ahead of us as a nation, a state, and a university. I honestly do not know where exactly that will lead us, but I have to believe that something positive will come from all of this pain. As an institution, we will continue to listen, seek understanding, and find meaningful ways to recognize and strengthen communities of color. We will redouble our efforts and explore new ways to support diversity and inclusion among students, faculty, and staff and bolster ally-ship on the University of Oregon campus. We must and we will.
Michael H. Schill
President and Professor of Law