Roanoke College president, students, alumni call for removal of Confederate statue

Statue sits on Roanoke County land, surrounded by Roanoke College campus

ROANOKE, Va. – The Confederate statue in front of Roanoke College is expected to be the center of attention at Tuesday’s Roanoke County Board of Supervisors meeting.

It’s not on the agenda, but people on both sides of the debate after calls for its removal and are expected to speak.

The monument to Confederate dead of Roanoke County stands on the corner of Main Street and College Avenue in downtown Salem in front of the old courthouse. It was dedicated by the Daughters of the Confederacy, one of many generic monuments put up across the region. But the one in Salem sits in front of a Roanoke College building and is now the center of a new call to action.

Yerisbel Jimenez is a Roanoke College alumna and the co-organizer of a petition for change.

“Following the events of George Floyd a group of alumni put together a Facebook page, it was called Roanoke College Alumni combating racism,” Jimenez said.

The petition is a call to action, to combat racial inequality at the college. It includes a ten-page letter of demands calling for a more culturally aware and inclusive campus.

“I was just trying to summarize years of issues that have gone unaddressed by the administration,” Jimenez said.

One demand is the removal of the statue. Roanoke College also issued a letter to the community stating it supports the swift removal of the monument, but Jimenez points out only after the petition began.

It’s not that straightforward, however. When the college annexed the old courthouse, the statue and the land directly around it remained with the county. The board of supervisors received a briefing on the statue last month, learning that as of July 1 the county is legally allowed to remove it if they want to.

The matter isn’t on Tuesday’s agenda however, although people for and against the issue are expected to speak during public comment.

Some opposed to the statue’s removal said the county should not listen to “out of towners” about what to do with it. While Jimenez only resided in the area for her time at Roanoke College, she said that does not make a difference against the arguments those opposed to removal make.

“Yes it was about state’s rights but it was about state’s rights to own people, and I don’t think that that’s something that we should be proud of, that’s not something we should celebrate,” Jimenez said.

She added the statue is just one sliver of the bigger problem. Jimenez said she and the others feel too often minority students are used as tools for the university’s advantage, such as in marketing materials, but that they don’t truly feel valued. They hope for more diversity in hiring and a focus on inclusiveness campus wife.

Jimenez and the other authors of the letter have a meeting with college leadership in the coming days.

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