Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.
On the same day that three statues commemorating Confederate leaders were vandalized at the University of Texas at Austin, campus leaders said they may soon decide whether to remove the statues.
UT-Austin President Greg Fenves announced on Tuesday that he has formed a task force to study the issue. That committee will likely recommend a plan to Fenves this summer. For months, many students have been calling for the statues to come down. That idea has picked up support since the fatal shooting of nine people inside a black church in South Carolina last week sparked national debate about Confederate symbols across the South.
“This is a passionate issue,” UT-Austin Vice President of Diversity Gregory Vincent, who will chair the task force, said at a press conference. “It strikes at the core of what does history mean, and what does it mean today to live in a diverse society.”
The committee’s full membership won’t be announced until Wednesday.
“I deeply understand the concerns of our students who have raised the issue,” Fenves said in a statement. “I have been working closely with them to consider the range of options that recognize the impact that statue has on our students and the need for us to understand and learn from our history.”
There are three statues commemorating Confederate leaders on UT’s South Mall. In March, the school’s elected student assembly voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution asking administrators to remove the most controversial one, of Confederate president Jefferson Davis.
That statue, plus ones of generals Robert E. Lee and Albert Sidney Johnston, were tagged with the words “Black Lives Matter” overnight Monday. The Davis graffiti also contained the phrase “Bump All the Chumps.” Maintenance workers had removed the red paint by Tuesday afternoon.
That graffiti has been accompanied by more formal outcry. An online petition asking for the removal of the Davis’ statue collected more than 1,500 signature within 24 hours Sunday.
Vincent said his committee will work to ensure that “all voices are heard” before a decision is made. He compared the process to one that took place when the school renamed a dorm originally named for a former UT law professor and Ku Klux Klan organizer William Stewart Simkins. The dorm is now called Creekside Residence Hall.
Vincent declined to say whether he thought the statue should be removed, saying he didn’t want to influence the task force. But he said he was opposed to vandalizing the statues in the meantime.
“There are other means to get your point across,” he said.
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