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Decolonization at Brown, Prof. Neumann present statue changes to UCS

DAB statue removal initiative discussed further, UCS vote to endorse initiative pushed to next week

Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 28, 2020

The Undergraduate Council of Students heard from Decolonization at Brown as well as the chair of the University’s Committee on Public Art about DAB’s initiative to replace statues on campus at its general body meeting Wednesday evening.

DAB’s proposal, which was originally introduced at the Council’s Oct. 14 meeting, calls for the University to remove the Caesar Augustus statue in front of the Sharpe Refectory and the Marcus Aurelius statue on the Ruth J. Simmons Quadrangle. The group believes that the statues perpetuate ideals of white supremacy and colonization

The University currently plans to move the Caesar Augustus statue to a location adjacent to the Slavery Memorial and dedicate funds to restoring the two statues.

“We strongly disagree with this proposal because we believe it changes the meaning of the Slavery Memorial,” said DAB member Junaid Malik ’20.5, referring to the University’s current plans. “Rather than detracting from the meaning of the Slavery Memorial, we are calling for the removal of the statue.”

The Caesar Augustus and Marcus Aurelius statues are understood to be monuments to colonialism, Malik said, adding that stylistic elements of the statues are “meant to convey the ideal of whiteness and white Western civilization that does not include non-Europeans, except through a relationship of inferiority.”

DAB member Amanda Brynn ’21, who is also a member of The Herald’s editorial page board, argued that the “monuments were never meant for education” when they arrived on campus in the early 20th century. Rather, they were “meant to idealize white colonial figures, which Brown was producing a generation of at the time,” she said.

Additionally, the statues require significant funding for upkeep and maintenance, Brynn said, noting that she does not see a reason to allocate money and effort toward their preservation due to the ideals they represent.

Although the Council had planned to vote on whether or not to endorse the initiative at Wednesday’s meeting, DAB requested that the vote be postponed until next week, after the group’s informational session about the initiative for students on Sunday.

Professor of History of Art and Architecture Dietrich Neumann, who chairs the University’s Committee on Public Art, also gave a presentation about the University’s statue relocation proposal at the meeting.

“We can work with the monuments that we have by contextualizing them and creating a richer and deeper meaning for our spaces,” he said.

The Caesar Augustus statue is in need of a major restoration, which is being debated with students alongside the potential to relocate or remove the statue, Neumann said. He said that he supports moving the Caesar Augustus statue to the front of the Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World in order for it to be seen as an artifact of their collection, rather than the monumental manner in which it currently stands on the Wriston Quadrangle.

Neumann expressed that he shares DAB’s goals of confronting the University’s legacy of colonialism, despite their different thoughts on how to do so. 

“For the last hundred years the statues have been here, they have meant different things to different people,” he said. “We’re delighted that they now mean something (in student discourse), and how meaning comes about is extremely interesting to us.”

“I am a little worried that removing the statues would just be a distraction, taking away a reminder of the work that still needs to be done” to address issues of colonialism on campus, Neumann added.

He also added that the University is in the process of procuring several works of art by Black and Indigenous artists to feature around campus.

The Council voted to postpone its decision on whether or not to endorse the initiative until its next general body meeting.

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  1. Ian Reifowitz says:

    Marcus Aurelius and Caesar Augustus did not represent white supremacy in their own time—the concept did not exist in any meaningful way. They no more represent colonization in the modern sense than do leaders of any other political entity throughout history that expanded its borders by force, the number of which is countless and, obviously, includes leaders of every background, from every continent. Additionally, the way the Roman Empire was governed bears little to no resemblance to the exploitative, destructive way modern, mostly European empires ruled over colonies populated by non-Europeans, which actively sought to undermine traditional cultures and leadership structures. Furthermore, and specifically unlike the statues of Confederate or Klan figures put up in the post-Civil War era, there’s no evidence presented that these statues were put up at Brown in order to intimidate black students or other people of color, or to emphasize white power over them. These figures are a part of Western Civilization, so unless we as a community intend to do away with all statues or representations of Western Civilization—which, as far as I know, no one is suggesting—these two figures do not represent something specifically worthy of removal. There is a difference between removing something that glorifies white supremacy or racism or modern colonialism (like a statue of Cecil Rhodes, for example, if Brown had had one)—which I would wholeheartedly support—and removing any historical figure who exercised significant military/political power in a way that was not actively anti-racist or fully inclusive of people of color—a standard that virtually no European or white figure who lived before this century would live up to. The campus should absolutely add more statues and more art produced by and/or representing BIPOC folks. But those Roman statues belong not just to current students but to all members of the Brown community, and they are part of our collective experience and memory. None of that would matter if they were truly representations of white supremacy, but given that they are not, those connections come into play, and should be respected.

  2. So statues of white people are bad now. These people are racist and disgusting.

  3. Smash Caeser’s statue.
    Will Jefferson topple next?
    Destroy history!

    • Peter Mackie'59 says:

      To ascribe original intent to the donor of these statues -“never meant for education” is simply not defensible. What does the writer actually know about the donor and his purpose for beautifying the campus with classical art?

  4. Jon M Acheson says:

    “Pity the nation that needs heroes”, Bertold Brecht, Galileo.

  5. Someone needs to tell the “scholars” at Brown to read some history. Marcus Aurelius has been held up as a paragon of Stoic virtue since ancient times. Presumably, the continuing relevance of such virtue was the message those who erected the statue wanted to convey. To claim the monument was instead intended as a symbol of White Supremacy, says more about the left wing ideology of those supporting this move as anything else.

  6. Marcus Aurelius was not in any sense a “white nationalist.” He was a philosopher Emperor, his “Meditations” is required reading in many fields of study. Are the students aware the Roman Empire had “non white” or “black” emperors? There was no concept of “white supremacy” then- to claim so is simply absurd. Marcus Aurelius was a great philosopher who should be remembered and honored.

  7. Lawrence Feld says:

    Let’s get some righteous POC statues up. How about tributes to the Moslems/Arabs who colonized across N Africa, and into parts of Asia & Europe? And, maybe, the Khan’s who led Mongol colonialism across Asia, and parts of Europe and the Middle East. Among Indigenous tribes, how about honoring the Sioux who stole the Black Hills from the Crow, Blackfoot & Arikara, or maybe the colonialist Comanche and their Southwest Empire.And don’t forget the Mexican slaughter and scalp bounties of the Apache, or Shaka Zulu’s empire building through war in Africa. Funny how much racism & colonization you can find when the search isn’t fixed by time & geographic constraints so as to always indict one group of people for a universal trait.

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