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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

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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