Unknown vandals deface insipid, racist UO mission statement

8/24/2018 update: Dean of Libraries Adriene Lim has issued a thoughtful statement here. Worth reading it all, here’s a snippet:

… On a personal note, I share this recollection of my days as a new librarian at Wayne State University in Detroit. I was involved in producing a major exhibit on “Lesbian Pulp Fiction” in one of our libraries. The year was 1997, when being lesbian or gay was still viewed as deviant and perverted in mainstream culture (and still is by some in our society). The exhibit included panels that I had borrowed from the Lesbian Herstory Archives (LHA). After the opening of the exhibit, someone vandalized the works; they painted the word “dyke” over an artifact and damaged a few of the LHA panels.

My point for sharing this story is to illustrate why I am convinced that condoning acts of vandalism like this or censoring or removing works with which we are offended will ultimately and more deeply affect those of us in the minority. This experience and many other incidents I can relate, including demands from individuals to remove what they deem to be offensive books and materials from the library, inform my own reactions to this incident of vandalism now. …

 

8/23/2018: I’m shocked and appalled that these vandals couldn’t find a ladder tall enough to fix the gibberish at the top too. I know the stairs make for a tricky set-up, but this $139.99 Harbor Freight 17 footer adjusts nicely. I’ve put a loaner out by the carport. This post is not in any way meant to express UO Senate endorsement of this sensible act of free-speech.

Thanks to Prof Sanjay Srivastava’s excellent twitter feed for the breaking news and photo.

From an earlier post:

12/7/2017: Students want to remove insipid, racist UO Mission Statement from library wall

The Daily Emerald has the story here:

The change.org petition is here. It focuses on the part about “… conservation and betterment … of our racial heritage…”, which at the time was the language of eugenics, racist immigration policies, and forced sterilization –  the death camps came soon after. Personally, I’m in favor of leaving the thing up as a warning to our students and the future, but only after giving UO’s History and English faculty a crack at it with a ladder and a fat red marker. Here’s my attempt:

 

 

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23 Responses to Unknown vandals deface insipid, racist UO mission statement

  1. Former Lifelong Liberal says:

    Wow. This is really sad–both the act and the reaction. Will we next celebrate burning of historic books and art in Knight and Schnitzer that offend current sensibilities? I thought the situation was bad at UO, but I’m really disappointed to see just how bad it’s gotten.

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    • uomatters says:

      When I was an undergrad at Columbia – I know that’s not as pretentious as Harvard, but it’s all I’ve got – we had to read Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations for Contemp Civ. The library had a row of leather-bound parchment copies, printed in 1789. They were covered in 200 years of student commentary. From quill pen annotations in fading iron ink to yellow highlighting. The book was alive. I added a few things too. I thought it was my duty to future students.

      So bugger-off.

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      • Former Lifelong Liberal says:

        Soon enough.

        One of my disappointments is that we don’t have the full, original works of the ancient Greeks. Part of the reason for that is that they were altered or destroyed by those who came after, no doubt for political reasons such as this. We’re all the poorer for it.

        The student protests here are so banal and trivial that I’ve often harbored the suspicion that they were assigned as extra credit projects. Perhaps a harmless enough substitute for addressing real problems, but I wish they’d leave historical artifacts out of it.

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  2. White male says:

    I don’t like erasing history. I like talking about history. Maybe we need to provide some historical context and contemporary reflection. Students, faculty and staff can discuss what the inscription’s arcane wordage means to them in an interactive exhibit.

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    • uomatters says:

      With red-markers and a ladder.

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      • Dog says:

        this isn’t about erasing history
        its about calling attention to it

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    • Historian says:

      Funny what counts with certain folks as “history” and “context” and what counts as erasing history.

      I mean, if this isn’t someone discussing what this “arcane wordage” means to them in an “interactive exhibit,” then I sure as hell don’t know what is. But then, it wasn’t done through Official Channels and approved by Historians™, so it doesn’t count, right?

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      • Anonymous says:

        On I think the concept of “context” is entirely missing in our modern times for our students, honors college students or not.

        These students no longer read for context, instead they simply scan a document and if some “buzzword” phrase pops up, then the entire document is condemned. Reading for context requires synthesis and research and who the hell has time for that, so screw it. Its simpler just to react with self-assured righteousness. In my experience, many faculty are beginning to act this way now as well, all participating in some group think goose step towards nowhere.

        And what about the first line of the document

        The university process is a social process that does not stop short of transforming men

        Have universities ever been a transformation process?

        Where they once, and who did they transform, the elite, the special, the privileged?

        Do Universities transform now? If so, how do we recognize this?
        More enlightened and responsible citizens? More collective critical thinking in society?

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        • Cheyney Ryan says:

          The first line is taken from John Dewey, “Education is a social process.” The elaboration of what this means: “All for each and each for all” reveals its collectivist meaning that led Dewey and Dewey-influenced sociologists to be, among other things, rabid supporters of World War One with its jailing of dissenters etc. I am unable to find any info on the actual views of Frederick George Young, though his remarks on national triumph/racial heritage would also seem to place him in the Social Darwinist -pro-eugenics camp of racists like Oliver Wendell Holmes.

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  3. A white duck says:

    What a hostile work environment.

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  4. Skeptic says:

    I don’t think we should destroy the motto. But we can update it. We can have exhibits in the museum of art or cultural history that highlights how UO has changed and grown both for the worse and the better.

    We shouldn’t sweep things under the rug. But also don’t need to revisionist history to pretend wordage of the past isn’t offensive or racist today.

    We should have safe places for discussion and deliberation. And that means preserving some of the ugly parts of history, but also appropriately let some of those things speak for themselves.

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  5. Anonymous says:

    Aw jeez, not this “erasing history” shit again. You don’t put up monuments to record history, you put them up to celebrate it. If you want to study history, go visit the archives, read a book, or (gasp! at a university?) take a class.

    I can guarantee you the people who hung this thing up in the library weren’t doing it to broadcasting Oregon’s racist history, and whoever defaced it wasn’t trying to hide it. The “erasing history” argument has it perfectly backward.

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  6. Anonymous says:

    It’s all fine while you’re censoring, toppling, and defacing things that offend YOU. But wait til someone does the same to your monuments, art, writings, etc. Free speech means free speech for everyone, including in the past, and not just speech you agree with. And then there’s that bit about “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. Without artifacts from the past, whether we find them offensive or not, we have essentially no past. I notice there are concentration camps preserved in Germany — not as things they approve, but as things that are condemned and used as teaching tools and monuments to something no sane person would think was good. I can’t get behind UO Matters in this. The response to speech we don’t like isn’t censorship and vandalism, it’s more speech. This doesn’t look like a brave work of protest to me, it’s just ignorant vandalism that is incapable of making a cogent and educational response to the wording. And it’s not art.

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  7. Former Lifelong Liberal says:

    This apt piece popped up in one of my feeds just now:

    https://www.newenglishreview.org/blog_direct_link.cfm?blog_id=66573

    A taste:

    “[T]here are no stakes, on comfortable college campuses, for condemning the dead. People condemn the past because it is easy, while it is hard to change the present, namely, one’s self. The brunt of the moral corruption which this practice inspires in the young is felt by the poor, whom academics pretend to care about for careerism’s sake. Students learn that being a good person consists of pointing fingers at people who, because they no longer exist, are conveniently unable to defend themselves. Such an activity is rather more agreeable than self-examination that involves confronting your own flaws. Thus historical revisionism serves to excuse the elite from any obligation they might feel to assist the lowly.”

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    • Cheyney Ryan says:

      This remark seems to suggest that the only two alternatives are [1] condemning/pointing fingers at the dead; [2] changing oneself, as the only way to change the present. But surely there is a third option–none of these are mutually exclusive, by the way: [3] condemning/pointing fingers at the LIVING–starting with those who are corrupting our precious institutions, like higher education.

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      • Former Lifelong Liberal says:

        I didn’t read that as presenting an exhaustive dilemma. Rather, they seemed to be saying that [1] was a facile and self-serving way of avoiding [2].

        I’m somewhat shamed by this myself. What actually useful thing might I be doing today instead of commenting here? Though I don’t agree with uomatters on the defacement, he’s clearly doing something useful in his summer school activity. Respect.

        (And also respect to the head librarian’s measured response.)

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  8. apt says:

    Not surprisingly, the “debate” here is polarized: either the “mission statement” upholds racist ideology and therefore creates a hostile environment for those living with the impact of America’s and Oregon’s racist history, or, the act of defacement in and of itself constitutes an ignorant and hostile act.

    “Anonymous” is right about missing context to a certain extent. After all, we can only go so far in illuminating historical context. But, lets not forget about the context right in front of our eyes. Namely, this “statement” is in our Library, and if no one wants to do any reading, take a look at the lovely murals* we can also find in the Library. If we take into consideration the “progress” narrative depicted in images alongside the University’s “mission,” a “social process” that “means the conservation and betterment of…[White] racial heritage,” then is there really enough gray area that this issue is debatable?

    Regardless, as UOmatters’ -December- post demonstrates, the statement was a terribly crafted piece of writing, and that alone should have resulted in some action, not yet another committee to sit and discuss ad nauseam until someone got fed up…

    *https://www.dailyemerald.com/2016/09/28/segerstrom-worth-another-look-knight-library-murals-depict-a-racist-past/

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    • Former Lifelong Liberal says:

      The question is not whether the mural prose somehow constitutes the proper current mission of the University. Clearly, it does not. Current policy, stated far and wide in every possible medium and venue, is vastly different, and vastly better.

      At this point, the mural is a relic of history, tucked in a corner somewhere. (I tried to find it once, and after a few minutes without success, gave up.) Even for those who manage to pass by it, working through the text and noting the objectionable words is a non-trivial task. It hardly seems like an odious icon oppressing daily life.

      Like the graves in Pioneer Cemetery, it’s of another time, and surely not in every way appropriate to its future. It’s enough to just let it pass into history. We have better things to do.

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  9. Anonymous says:

    A Message from Adriene Lim, Dean of Libraries and Philip H. Knight Chair
    https://library.uoregon.edu/defacement-knight-library-mural

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  10. Just a thought says:

    Michelle Obama remarked that she woke up “every morning in a house that was built by slaves”.

    I never once heard her call for its destruction.

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  11. i can never think of a name... says:

    There’s got to be a difference between preserving history and endorsing it. As a cinema studies instructor, I don’t omit D.W. Griffith from the history of editing, but I also don’t force my students to watch Birth of a Nation. The red paint is just as historically important as the mural itself for conveying changing ideas of race in the U.S. I say leave it.

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