Dear Tex: Willy’s Statue should be removed
Editor’s Note: This is a guest opinion that has been submitted by members of the Rice community. The views expressed in this opinion are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of the Thresher or its editorial board. All guest opinions are fact-checked and edited for clarity and conciseness by Thresher editors.
We are current Hanszenites. This piece is a direct reply from a group of current Hanszenites to the recent letter printed from a former Hanszenite.
First, we’d like to thank you for your previous support of Rice and for expressing your thoughts. However, Hanszen College has evolved since your time at Rice and we’re here to correct the record. We’re not the only Owls to speak out on Willy’s statue, but we are publicly adding our voices to the calls to substantively address systemic racism, deep-rooted oppression and the histories and structures of racial injustice that have transpired on Rice’s campus. Those actions begin with a simple demand — remove Willy’s statue. Please read this letter as one voice of many.
As someone who is not Black and has thus not experienced the anxiety or anger attributed to William Marsh Rice and his legacy, you should not assume how Black students feel regarding this issue. Black students on campus are here and succeeding at this university not from any “sympathy” offered by administration, but because of hard work and academic success like any other student at Rice. To imply that this is not the case is not only incorrect, but also an insult to the students who have contributed to and impacted Rice in some of the most profound ways. Taking down the statue does not imply that we are forgetting or censoring the past — it in fact highlights the neglected aspects of our university’s past that are painful yet necessary to unveil and confront.
When you urge the Task Force on Slavery, Segregation and Racial Injustice to “drop its obvious focus on Black students,” you paper over the issues the Task Force was created to address. William Marsh Rice enslaved and exploited black individuals for his own profit. The Task Force seeks not only to investigate Rice’s past with respect to slavery, but also to encourage honest conversation about this past. In order to address the systemic oppression and racial injustice enacted by William Marsh Rice, we must listen to and support students who are vocal about the way it affects their experience at Rice today. In hindsight, it should not have taken students speaking up to prompt us to take action. We should be proactive in interrogating Rice’s history and working to make Rice better. “To consider the student body as a cohesive group of proud Owls, not a collection of diverse groups” ignores the deeply different experiences that contextualize our time here at Rice, and prevents us from appropriately supporting and addressing the needs of members of our Rice community when the time arises.
Tex, we also want to address a few historical inaccuracies in your letter to the Thresher. As you stated, William Marsh Rice does owe his “business success” to the immoral and horrifying institution of slavery. However, this “culture” you describe was simply not an environment Rice happened to find himself in. A native of Springfield, Massachusetts, Rice moved to Texas in his early 20s in search of business opportunities — rejecting the abolitionist movement that Springfield was at the forefront of. (We want to emphasize that this does not absolve the North from their anti-Black culture and practices.) Instead, Rice actively chose to entangle himself in the exploitative slave, cotton and lumber industries. He enslaved at least 15 people at the time of the 1860 U.S. Census Slave Schedule, and he served on a slave patrol where he produced several fugitive slave ads with the purpose of recapturing slaves who fled for freedom. Not only is your argument ahistorical, it also assumes a point of view steeped in white Eurocentrism and privileges that view as the point in which knowledge is produced — erasing entire histories and perspectives of historically marginalized and oppressed peoples. William March Rice’s entanglement with the slave trade and exploitation of Black individuals is profound. We have only scratched the surface of this knowledge by engaging with his biography. We would encourage you and others who wish to better understand his legacy to read it.
This history continues to the founding of Rice University. The original charter for Rice called for the school to be only for "the white inhabitants of Houston and the state of Texas." In fact, Rice was among the last southern colleges and universities to admit any BIPOC. Rice intended to exclude every single BIPOC from this school, and we are only able to celebrate our diverse campus today due to a multi-year lawsuit to change the stipulations William Marsh Rice originally made. Further, to refuse to critique a man just because he was born in a different time is to ignore the active resistance of abolitionists and anti-racists for as long as people have been oppressed and enslaved (certainly since before William Marsh Rice was born). Life was indeed different then, but William Marsh Rice surely knew and ignored the demands of both the people he enslaved and those working to dismantle the system as it was known.
To unite our student body, as you called for in your letter, is to ensure that all student voices are heard. As stated in the list of demands published by Black students: “His legacy [Willy’s Statue] is a constant reminder to many Black students of what Rice University used to be like and what it stood for.” We must listen to Black students and these demands directly concerning Willy's statue. To remove this statue is to acknowledge Rice’s history and commit to creating a space in which Black students are supported and included.
Morgan Seay, Mason Reece, Dani Knobloch, Isabelle Scott, Marc Armeña, Astra Burke, Lauren Ivory, Daniel Rothfusz
More from The Rice Thresher
Before Hispanic Heritage Month officially ends, I would like to take a moment to write about the labels those of us of Latin American heritage use to describe ourselves. At Rice, club names, course titles and survey questions often defer to pan-ethnic labels even though most people tend to use their national origin group as a primary identifier. These pan-ethnic labels are problematic. Although they in some ways unify Latin American communities, they often leave out others, like Afro-Latinos and indigenous Latinos. My goal here is not to dissuade people from using pan-ethnic labels; as history has shown, they can be useful, to some degree. However, my intention is for all of us, Latinos and non-Latinos alike, to use them wisely — with the understanding that the Latino community cannot be condensed into one culturally, ethnically or even linguistically homogeneous group. With that in mind, I hope that we as a Rice community continue to discuss and re-evaluate our language even after Hispanic Heritage Month ends.
As we have seen over the past 18 months, COVID-19 has a tendency to disrupt even the best-laid plans. The administration was premature in declaring a return to normalcy in May, and we appreciate the caution with which they have handled COVID policies this semester. Since the initial testing snafu during Orientation Week, COVID guidelines on campus have been gradually rolled back as the semester progresses.
This weekend, people flooded the streets of Houston and cities across the state to protest SB 8 at the Women’s March. For a march dedicated to women, the crowd extended well beyond that group, including adults, children and pets alike. While it may have been initially daunting to take action in the wake of SB 8’s enactment, numerous displays of support last weekend by members of the Rice community and other actions in the previous weeks have shed light on how we can support each other and come together to support causes we are passionate about.