Anthropology Faculty Statement on Campus Monuments
Tradition is at the heart of Aggie culture. As Anthropologists we study culture, and we understand that traditions and monuments are powerful mechanisms of cultural transmission. Culture is learned in a myriad of tangible and intangible ways. Symbolism, ideals, and values bleed into reality through the creation of public memory. Monuments, including statues, represent […]
Tradition is at the heart of Aggie culture. As Anthropologists we study culture, and we understand that traditions and monuments are powerful mechanisms of cultural transmission. Culture is learned in a myriad of tangible and intangible ways. Symbolism, ideals, and values bleed into reality through the creation of public memory. Monuments, including statues, represent culturally meaningful, physical manifestations of that public memory. They are tangible cultural objects, imbued with intangible meaning by people. We cannot reduce the meaning of such artifacts to just stone and metal. Rather, their significance is deciphered through context, both physical and historical. This raises the question: what are the intangible cultural values made visible through the statue of Sul Ross?
Sul Ross accomplished much on behalf of Texas A&M University, likely even saving it from closure in its early years. He was also instrumental in the establishment of Prairie View A&M University. We should remember and value these accomplishments. However, it is equally important that we acknowledge the negative side of history, and recognize the harmful impact that his actions as a Texas Ranger, Confederate General, and politician had on Indigenous, Black, and Hispanic peoples. For instance, as a delegate to the 1875 Texas Constitutional Convention, Sul Ross served on the Special Committee on Education that drafted the language that established segregated schools as part of the 1876 Texas Constitution. The segregation of schooling in Texas ensured that Texas A&M University would receive land grant funds without having to open its facilities to Black students, who would instead attend Prairie View A&M University.
We must remember our history – even the uncomfortable parts. We can admire our past leaders for their accomplishments, and criticize them for their failings. To do any less would reduce Sul Ross to a one-dimensional “hero” rather than a multi-dimensional human being, imperfect and flawed. To ignore our history, or to embrace only part of our history, is to deny our students the opportunity to learn valuable lessons about the past, contributing to a culture of learned ignorance.
Traditions, including those associated with the statue of Sul Ross, are deeply embedded in the construction and practice of Aggie identity and Aggie culture. But, does this Aggie identity and culture extend equally to everyone in the Texas A&M University community? Student experiences documented on #hateisthehiddencorevalue and #racismattamufeelslike, many of which relate to the Sul Ross statue, demonstrate that subtle and overt discrimination against Black students and people of color sadly remains an everyday occurrence in the lives of our fellow Aggies. Monuments that sow division within a community, that make some members of that community feel like they do not fully belong, discourage the development of a sense of shared community and culture. Given the tremendously positive impact that former students can have on current students at Texas A&M University, it is in our own best interest, and in the best interest of future generations of Aggies, to welcome everyone into the shared community and culture that is the Aggie family.
Located in a public space at the center of our flagship campus’ Academic Plaza, and presented with little to no cultural or historical context, the Sul Ross statue represents a conscious and conspicuous decision about what values our Aggie community chooses to commemorate. Unveiled in 1919 – during the Jim Crow era – the Sul Ross statue is one of hundreds of Confederate monuments erected in consequential public spaces whose effect was, and remains to this day, to shape public memory. In an era of rising white nationalism, we can no longer afford to claim that the Sul Ross statue is an innocent remembrance of a benign history; we cannot decouple intent (veneration of a beloved, influential, past leader) from impact (veneration of a racist, exclusionary, past leader).
Cultures change. Our Aggie community today is not the same as the Aggie community of 1919. We have changed. We are more ethnically and racially diverse than ever before. Texas A&M University has made substantive changes to combat systemic racism and gender discrimination, and espouses a commitment to further transformation. Reckoning with our past, and the material culture we inherited, demonstrates a choice about the values that we wish to embrace, and the values that we wish to reject. We must now ask, how does the Sul Ross statue relate to us, the existing University community, today? Who experiences it? How do they experience it? Do the cultural values of exclusion and segregation from a century ago still resonate with Aggie culture today?
Cultural revolutions regularly question how the past is remembered and whose narrative is valued. This does not represent an abandonment or a lack of appreciation of history, but it does often represent a shift in power dynamics that privilege narrow interpretations of the past. Monuments change whenever cultures choose to declare that they are no longer what they were, nor do they want to be; a symbolic gesture that represents a continued desire for change.
Making the decision to move the Sul Ross statue is a statement about what we choose to value in Aggie culture. Taking a stand requires a critical distinction between remembrance and reverence. It is possible to preserve Texas A&M University’s history, even the parts that run counter to the core values of today’s Aggie community, but it is essential that we present all elements of that history – good and bad. We can even ask a further question: how would Sul Ross have defended his decisions and his actions? Telling his full story, warts and all, acknowledges the lived experience of Sul Ross the human being (not the legend), a man who was a product of his time and place. Development of a more comprehensive display that provides both historical and cultural context would create a space for dialogue and for deeper understanding across cultural, social, and political boundaries. We feel that such a comprehensive exhibit would be best presented in the Cushing Memorial Library and Archives.
We cannot choose our past, but we can choose what we honor and celebrate on our campus today and tomorrow. Our community is now confronted with a teachable moment about how we learn from history, how we commemorate it, and how we teach it. Will we choose to show the world that Aggies are able to acknowledge, to understand, and to reconcile? Or will we let this opportunity to create a more inclusive environment for all members of the Aggie family slip away? We hope that the President’s Commission on Historic Representations will follow the recommendation made by Black Leaders on Campus (BLOC) and choose the former option. We the undersigned are united in our belief that moving the Sul Ross statue to the Cushing Memorial Library and Archives, or some other appropriate venue where it can be viewed with relevant historical and cultural context, is an important step towards creating a more welcoming and inclusive future for all Aggies.
Darryl de Ruiter
 We recommend consulting: Lourdes Arizpe and Christina Amescua, Eds. (2013), Anthropological Perspectives on Intangible Cultural Heritage, New York, NY: Springer; Michael J. Kolb (2020), Making Sense of Monuments: Narratives of Time, Movement, and Scale, New York, NY: Routledge; Laura A. Macaluso, Ed. (2019), Monument Culture: International Perspectives on the Future of Monuments in a Changing World, Lanham, MD: Rowan & Littlefield; Marie Louise Stig Sørensen, Dacia Viejo-Rose, Paola Filippucci (2020) Memorials in the Aftermath of Armed Conflict: From History to Heritage, Palgrave Studies in Cultural Heritage and Conflict: Palgrave Macmillan; Nina Tumarkin (1997), Lenin Lives! The Lenin Cult in Soviet Russia, Harvard, MA: Harvard University Press; Lisa Yoneyama (1999) Hiroshima Traces: Time, Space, and the Dialectics of Memory, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.
 Ross gained a reputation for brutality towards Native Americans and Black Americans that he engaged with as a Texas Ranger and later confederate general; see Paul H. Carlson and Tom Crum (2010), Myth, Memory, and Massacre: The Pease River Capture of Cynthia Ann Parker, Lubbock, TX: Texas Tech University Press); see Memphis Daily Appeal (1864) Afternoon Edition, Wednesday, April 20th, 1864. Memphis, Tennessee).
 Article VII, section 7: “Separate schools shall be provided for the white and colored children, and impartial provision shall be made for both.” See: Journal of the Constitutional Convention of the State of Texas: Begun and Held at the City of Austin, October 18th, 1875, Galveston, 1875; see page 395 for the membership of the Special Committee on Education and page 397 for the adopted wording of the relevant Section.
 A process that author James W. Loewen referred to as, “heroification, a degenerative process (much like calcification) that makes people over into heroes. Through this process, our educational media turn flesh-and-blood individuals into pious, perfect creatures without conflicts, pain, credibility, or human interest.” See James W. Loewen (2018), Lies My Teacher Told Me, New York, NY: The New Press. Loewen’s book is aimed at combatting learned ignorance.
 In 2019 the Texas A&M Foundation made more than $108M available to support 9,000 students and 500 faculty, and to support capital building projects on campus. In 2019, fully 60,730 former students enabled the Association of Former Students to provide $15,023,516 of support to current students.
 The unveiling of the monument in 1919 was attended (at the invitation of then-President Bizzell) by members of the Sul Ross Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, as well as a color bearer from Ross’ Confederate Brigade who exhibited a flag captured during the Civil War and who, “…told how gallantly Gen. Ross had served his country”, presumably referring to the Confederate States of America (The Eagle, April 23rd and May 5th, 1919). We recommend consulting: Southern Poverty Law Center (2019), Whose Heritage? Public Symbols of the Confederacy, published online; T.G. Ashplant, Graham Dawson, and Michael Roper (2000), The Politics of War Memory and Commemoration, London and New York: Routledge; Steven Hoelscher (2003) “Making place, making race: Performances of whiteness in the Jim Crow South”, Annals of the Association of American Geographers 93(3): 657-686. Diana E. Marsh and Gwendolyn W. Saul (2018), “On Monuments and Racial Violence”, Anthropology News 59(4): e115-e119; Gwendolyn W. Saul and Diana E. Marsh (2018) “In Whose Honor? On Monuments, Public Spaces, Historical Narratives, and Memory”, Museum Anthropology 41(2): 117-120; Paul Shackel (2001), “Public memory and the search for power in American historical archaeology”, American Anthropologist 103(3): 655-670.
 We recommend consulting: Annie E. Coombes (2003), History after Apartheid: Visual Culture and Public Memory in a Democratic South Africa, Durham, NC: Duke University Press; Ivan Karp, Christine Mullen Creamer, and Steven D. Levine (1992), Museums and Communities: the Politics of Public Culture, Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution Press; Amy Lonetree (2012), Decolonizing Museums: Representing Native America in National and Tribal Museums, Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press; Daniel J. Walkowitz and Lisa Maya Knauer (2009), Contested Histories in Public Spaces: Memory, Race, and Nation, Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
 We recommend consulting: Alex Barker (2018), “In Whose Honor/In Whose Time? Regimes of Historicity and the Debate over Confederate Monuments”, Museum Anthropology 41(2): 125-128; Anne Louise Hollmuller (2018), Judged by the Generations: Baltimore’s Confederate Monuments and the Shaping of Historical Memory, Dissertation, Johns Hopkins University; Paul A. Shackel (2004), “Memory in Black And White: Race, Commemoration, And The Post-Bellum Landscape”, Civil War Book Review 6(3): 7; Marie Louise Stig Sørensen, and Dacia Viejo-Rose (2015), War and Cultural Heritage: Biographies of Place, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.