It’s time to talk about Willy
Last week, the Board of Trustees announced that Reginald DesRoches, Rice’s current provost, will be the next president of Rice University. DesRoches will be the eighth president in the history of the university, and the first person of color and foreign-born person to hold the position. We applaud the Board’s selection of DesRoches, and wish him great success in his new role. But because there are seven months left before the beginning of his tenure, we would like to pen one of our final editorials to President David Leebron and the Board of Directors. It’s time to talk about everyone’s favorite subject — one that has found itself in our news section repeatedly — the statue of one William Marsh Rice.
With the introduction before the Student Association of a resolution advocating for the removal of Willy’s statue just days ago, the question of what to do with the Founder’s Memorial is as pressing as ever. This issue first came to the forefront during Leebron’s tenure in the summer of 2020. Since the president is the figurehead of the university and a member of the board, most of the credit or blame for whatever decision is made about the statue will fall on them. Because of this, we think it’s only fair that President Leebron doesn’t ignore his responsibility to solve one of the most contentious issues at Rice in recent memory and simply pass this decision, and the ridicule that will inevitably come with it, on to incoming-President DesRoches.
To be clear, we are not advocating one way or the other with respect to the placement of the statue. Rather, we are calling for a decision to be made on the statue in the next few months. Yes, selecting a Black man as the next president of a university is a step toward addressing a fundamental lack of diversity in the leadership of top universities across the country — as Leebron so astutely pointed out in his Sept. 13, 2020 instagram post. But this selection cannot serve as an excuse to remain neutral and silent on an issue with this level of racial sensitivity.
Furthermore, the appointment of DesRoches cannot be seen as a fix-all solution to meeting the demands of Black students at Rice. To the Board and other members of the administration, please do not use the recent news as an excuse not to pursue progress.
We would find it reprehensible if the Board considered passing this issue off to the first president of color this University has ever seen, and we implore them to take action, any action, on the statue of William Marsh Rice before June 30, 2022.
Editor’s Note: Thresher editorials are collectively written by the members of the Thresher’s editorial board. Current members include Savannah Kuchar, Ben Baker-Katz, Ivanka Perez, Nayeli Shad, Talha Arif, Morgan Gage and Daniel Schrager.
More from The Rice Thresher
Before you attend a counseling session at the Rice counseling center, you will be told that “the RCC maintains strict standards regarding privacy.” You will find statements from the university that your mental health record will not be shared with anyone outside of extreme situations of imminent harm, and only then that your information will be shared with only the necessary officials. This sounds great, except that these assurances bear no teeth whatsoever — no enforcement agency ensures that Rice follows its public confidentiality promises, and there are no penalties for Rice if they break them. The Wellbeing and Counseling Centers should more directly communicate the limits of their confidentiality policies when compared to unaffiliated counseling centers, and students in sensitive situations should take the necessary precautions to protect their information.
This week marks the last issue of the Thresher for the year, and for the seniors like myself, our last issue ever. I have been a part of the Thresher since freshman year. And it would not be an exaggeration to say it has defined my Rice experience. As someone pursuing a career in journalism after graduation, there has been no better place to learn than at this paper.
In January, the Rice Board of Trustees announced plans to move the Founder’s memorial to another area of the academic quad as part of a whole redesign, adding additional context of his “entanglement” with slavery. This comes despite continual calls from the student body to not have the enslaver displayed in the quad regardless of the context provided. It would be just for these calls to action and the majority of the Task Force Committee who voted to not keep it there that the Board of Trustees decide to not keep the memorial prominently displayed in the quad at all.