University of Virginia president Theresa Sullivan responded to a Tuesday night student protest that covered a statue of Thomas Jefferson, the university's founder, in a black tarp and labeled him a "racist" and "rapist."
Sullivan, in a Wednesday email to alumni, said the protesters were "desecrating ground that many of us consider sacred" and she "strongly disagreed" with the "protesters' decision to cover" the statue.
"Last night about forty students held a demonstration on the north side of the Rotunda and as part of this demonstration, they shrouded the Jefferson statue, desecrating ground that many of us consider sacred," Sullivan wrote. "I strongly disagree with the protesters’ decision to cover the Jefferson statue."
She added that the university removed the tarp, and one person was arrested for public intoxication.
Sullivan further praised Jefferson as "an ardent believer in freedom of expression," who "experienced plenty of abusive treatment from the newspapers of his day."
Jefferson was attacked on Tuesday night by Black Lives Matter-aligned protesters, who complained that his legacy was "fetishized" by people who condemned the neo-Nazi protests in Charlottesville last month.
"The same moderates who condemn the hate that came to Charlottesville one month ago fetishize the legacy of Jefferson, and imagine him as our collective moral compass," said a speaker at the protest, according to the local Daily Progress.
"We can and must condemn the violence of one month ago and simultaneously recognize Jefferson as a rapist, racist, and slave owner," she said. "The visibility of physical violence from white supremacists should not take our attention away from condemning and disrupting more ‘respectable’ racists that continue to control the structures that perpetuate institutional racism."
The protesters demanded the university adhere to a list of demands from the Black Student Alliance, which calls for the Jefferson statue to be labeled as "an emblem of white supremacy" and for a place to be added that explains why.
The group also demands the university increase African-American enrollment and make it required that all students be educated on "white supremacy, colonization and slavery as they directly relate to Thomas Jefferson, the university and the city of Charlottesville."
President Donald Trump warned in the wake of last month's protests that statues of Jefferson would be the next target of protesters. Both the Washington Post and New York Times criticized the warning.
Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel has been urged to remove a statue of George Washington because he was a slave owner.
Jefferson founded the University of Virginia in 1819.