Hundreds of alumni sign letter in support of removing Duke Chapel's Robert E. Lee statue

Lee's statue was vandalized early Thursday morning

<p>On the left is the Robert E. Lee statue before it was vandalized. On the right is the statue today.</p>

On the left is the Robert E. Lee statue before it was vandalized. On the right is the statue today.

Hundreds of Duke alumni have signed a letter to President Vincent Price supporting the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue outside of Duke Chapel.

Adrienne Harreveld, Trinity ’14, wrote and released the letter Wednesday night, noting that it would be an easy way to show Price that many alumni want the statue to be removed. The letter says that as long as the statue is up, the signatories will withhold their contributions to Duke. Harreveld tweeted Friday evening that the petition had garnered more than 1,000 signatures.

"I believe that a statue of Robert E. Lee doesn't reflect the values of the Duke University community," she said. "I really hope that it does not."

More notable Duke alumni have also started voicing their views. Retta Sirleaf, Trinity '92, best known for her work on the TV show "Parks and Recreation, confirmed on Twitter Friday that she signed the petition.

Administrators discovered early Thursday morning that the statue of Robert E. Lee was vandalized. 

The damage seems to be primarily to the statue's face. Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for government affairs and public relations, wrote in a statement that administrators were aware of the incident and were reviewing security camera footage. A guard has also been positioned at the Chapel's entrance.

In a statement Thursday morning, Price condemned the action.

“Duke Chapel is a place of sanctuary and refuge that belongs to every member of the Duke community. Each of us deserves a voice in determining how to address the questions raised by the statues of Robert E. Lee and others, and confront the darker moments in our nation’s history," Price said. "For an individual or group of individuals to take matters into their own hands and vandalize a house of worship undermines the right, protected in our Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion, of every Duke student and employee to participate fully in university life."

Earlier this week, Price said that he wanted to learn more before committing to removing it. He has also stated that he is consulting members of the Duke community about the topic. However, Harreveld said that all the necessary talking has been done and that it's time for action.

"To me, I feel like a conversation has already been had," she said. "I don't really think that there needs to be much community discussion about there being the general of the confederacy, who owned slaves personally, on the Chapel. In an ideal situation, Price sees the public reaction from the Duke community and hires a construction team and removes the statue like immediately." 

Harreveld noted that while she couldn't speak for all the signatories of her letter, she personally didn't have any objection to the vandalism and wouldn't support any disciplinary action facing the perpetrators.

Luke Powery, dean of the Chapel, wrote in an email Thursday that he stands in opposition to white supremacy, but that there needs to be a larger conversation about how to move forward with Lee's statue, agreeing with Price.

"As part of the Duke community, the Chapel welcomes a broad process of communal discernment about our stewardship of this building—as well as our care for the people who enter it. Instead of destructive acts like defacing a statue, I invite people into this constructive discernment process," Powery wrote.

Likhitha Butchireddygari contributed reporting.

Editor's note: This article was updated at 9 p.m. Thursday to include Harreveld's comments and at 5:00 p.m. Friday to note that Sirleaf had signed the petition.


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