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'Right move': Students react to Robert E. Lee statue being removed

Students praised how President Vincent Price handled the removal of the Duke Chapel statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, noting that its removal makes the campus a more welcoming place.

Price made one of his first major decisions as Duke's new president when he had the statue taken down August 19.  The move ended a week of growing tension about what to do with the statue after the deadly protests in Charlottesville, Va. earlier this month. Days before it was taken down, the statue was vandalized and several hundred alumni signed a petition calling for its removal. 

In an email announcing the news to all students, faculty, staff and alumni, Price said his decision "presents an opportunity for us to learn and heal," adding that the statue will be preserved so that students can study Duke’s "complex past and take part in a more inclusive future."

This week, students have expressed their approval of how the University managed the situation and created the Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation Center to help eliminate societal structures that perpetuate racism. 

“I think it’s really good that he decided to take action and remove the statue,” said sophomore Thien Hoang. “I know for a lot of people, myself included, that it represented a lot of negative things that we don’t want reflected in our university.”

Sophomore Jessica Chen added that Price made the “right move” by removing the statue and  creating the TRHT Center at around the same time.

“I think that’s definitely a step that not only generates positive publicity but also makes a lot of sense in the context of Charlottesville,” she said.

Other students, like sophomore Mackenzie DeLoatch, commented on how they appreciated the swiftness with which the statue was removed. 

Similarly, sophomore Gretchen Wright indicated that she appreciated how the statue was taken down “quietly...before anything could turn ugly.” Wright also appreciated the plan to preserve the statue so that members of the Duke community could remember why it was taken down in the first place.

However, senior Gilbert Brooks III believed that the statue should have been removed sooner. 

“For black people—[the statue was] a symbol that [campus] wasn’t a place that you [were] meant to be in," he said. "This wasn’t a space that was created out of equality for you.”

Brooks also noted that he does not believe the statue’s removal will bring the student body together.

“If [the statue’s removal] will actually make our campus come together? Absolutely not,” Brooks said. “It’s quite foolish to think so, but I do understand the removal.”

Nonetheless, the removal of the statue has made Duke’s campus a more inclusive place for students of color, DeLoatch said.

“It felt like our wishes were being respected rather than ignored,” she said.


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