In response to the recent removal of the Pioneer and Pioneer Mother statues by local anti-racist activists, President Schill displayed a profound ignorance of the statues’ history as symbols of white supremacy on campus.
In referring to the statues’ removal as “acts of destruction,” President Schill made it clear that he places greater value in property than the everyday harm and pain caused by symbols that commemorate settler colonialism and genocide. The statues, while they stood, represented forms of violence in prominent public spaces on campus — violence experienced acutely by Indigenous and Black people in particular.
A pernicious aspect of President Schill’s message is the framing of the issue as one mainly borne out of different perspectives. He says that the statues are “what some consider to be symbols of racism and oppression” and calls for highlighting “their complicated meaning — both good and bad.” However, that approach is oblivious to the historical documentation related to the installation of both statues in which settler colonialism, subjugation of Indigenous peoples, and white supremacy are all foregrounded.
President Schill mentioned his desire to deal with the statues in a “deliberative and inclusive process,” but UO administration has consistently failed to create any such process at the university. The process initiated by UO admin in 2016 for the denaming of Dunn and Deady halls, as demanded by the Black Student Task Force, resulted in Deady Hall retaining its name despite being named after a former judge and UO founder who supported slavery.
The decision to keep the name was only reversed recently when UO Trustee Andrew Colas raised the issue of denaming at the Board of Trustees meeting on June 5 and in the face of political pressure from protests targeting Deady Hall as a site of enduring racism on campus. Time and again, the undemocratic, bureaucratic processes put in place by UO administration have not addressed the needs and demands of our Black, Indigenous, and People of Color campus community members, and this failure indicated that a different type of intervention to deal with the statues was required.
The problem with the statues is not the “lack of contextualization” but their mere existence and presence on campus as members of the campus community had explicitly made clear. UO administration had years to take action on the statues but never did, despite their view of the Pioneer from Johnson Hall. Instead, the Pioneer and Pioneer Mother statues remained in place, giving legitimacy to their presence and normalizing the violent histories embedded within them.
The need to confront the violent history of the U.S. is long overdue, and this importantly includes the history of the university itself, which is contingent upon the dispossession of Indigenous peoples’ lands and exclusion of Black people. The University of Oregon resides on lands stolen from the Kalapuya people through a process of dispossession and forcible removal. Recognizing these realities is the baseline for taking any steps toward remaking the university. Unfortunately, President Schill and UO administration have demonstrated again and again that they are totally out of step with the current moment and what it requires.
President Schill and the UO administration can begin to address systemic racism on campus by retracting their recent statements and committing to democratic, consultative decision-making that elevates voices and perspectives that have been previously excluded and silenced. UO admin must work to develop actual systems of support for Indigenous and Black students, staff, and faculty on campus, especially in terms of recruitment and retention, rather than merely offering lip service to diversity as President Schill and UO admin are prone to do.
Furthermore, we urge UO admin not to place the Pioneer and Pioneer Mother statues in any museum as this would only serve to valorize the statues as art and force Black and Indigenous community members to have to contend with these white supremacist symbols in a new setting. Memorializing these statues would go directly against the calls for permanent removal that members of the campus community have articulated for years. Instead, reckoning with the histories of oppression that are intertwined with the existence of the University of Oregon must be integrated into the curriculum and campus engagement.
GTFF Executive Board