President denounces statue vandalism, urges campus unity

The Pioneer and Pioneer Mother statues are in storage after protesters tore them from their pedestals at the University of Oregon on Saturday, June 13. In a message to campus, President Michael H. Schill denounced the destruction and said the statues will not go back to their previous places of prominence on campus.

“There is no question we are living in a moment when our nation is painfully coming to grips with the reality of systemic racism that has been woven into the fabric of our society for generations,” Schill wrote. “While I strongly believe in the power of peaceful protest and the right to free expression and dissent, I condemn these acts of destruction. What happened Saturday evening was unacceptable.”

Schill had, the week prior, announced to the University Senate that the institution would move forward with a process to determine whether the pioneer statues as well as other historic monuments and art viewed as symbols of oppression should be taken down.

The stone pedestal where The Pioneer statue formerly rested “I regret that we will no longer have the opportunity for that type of deliberative and inclusive process,” Schill wrote. “Nevertheless, we need to move forward as a community. “

The bronze statue of The Pioneer stood on campus for 100 years. The Pioneer Mother was installed in 1932. Both were created by artist Alexander Phimister Proctor.

The toppling and defacing of the sculptures by an anonymous group of protesters came after weeks of worldwide protests over racism, sparked by the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer and a series of deaths of black men and women by law enforcement. More than 40 monuments connected to slavery, segregation, racism and colonialism have been removed or torn down in the wake of the activism in the U.S., Europe and New Zealand.

A group called the Black Student Collective renewed the call for the statues’ removal, along with other demands. Students from the Native American Student Union had previously called for The Pioneer’s removal.

“One of the longstanding challenges with the Pioneer statues was their lack of contextualization and materials to fully explain their complicated meaning—both good and bad,” Schill said in his campus message.

Schill said he will charge the Committee on Recognizing our Diverse History to work with the UO museums to explore permanent installations or other opportunities to exhibit the statues in a manner that places them in appropriate historical context.

In his campus statement, he called for the community to redouble its efforts to end racism and support diversity and inclusion.

“These are incredibly difficult times,” Schill wrote. “Removing or relocating a statue or a piece of art does not change the need for the hard work of confronting racism that is ahead of us as a nation, a state and a university. I honestly do not know where exactly that will lead us, but I have to believe that something positive will come from all of this pain.”