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Left-Wing Brown Students Want Roman Emperor Statues Removed Because of ‘White Supremacy’

October 24, 2020

A group of students at Brown University want two statues of Roman emperors removed from the campus on the grounds they represent white supremacy.

The statues depict Caesar Augustus (63 B.C. to A.D. 14), the emperor at the time of the birth of Jesus whose reign began the Pax Romana, or Roman Peace, in the ancient world; and Marcus Aurelius (121-180), an emperor, poet, and Stoic philosopher depicted in the 2000 movie Gladiator.

“These monuments were brought to our campus with the goal of upholding the ideals of the ‘perfect’ white form, white civilization, white supremacy, and colonialism — ideas that we believe are incompatible with Brown today. Consequently, removing and replacing these statues is a crucial step in confronting such legacies,” states a 2,093-word article posted online by a student group called Decolonization at Brown.

Getting rid of the emperor statues, the group says, “is one step in a broader project of decolonization by confronting Brown’s institutional and ideological legacies of colonialism and white supremacy.”

Money that university officials want to spend refurbishing the emperor statues should be used to pay for statues made by black and indigenous artists, the students say, adding that of the 30 statues on campus, only three were made by black or indigenous artists.

The Augustus and Marcus Aurelius statues have been on Brown’s campus since 1906 and 1908, respectively. They are not ancient Roman statues, but rather bronze statues made from casts of ancient statues.

The opponents of the statues argue that the statues were designed to further “the education for students at Brown … to mold them according to the classical ideal of whiteness.”

The students hope removing the statues would also affect the curriculum.

“It is important to note that this is not just about monuments. It is also about the kinds of people and histories that students at Brown today are taught to idealize,” the students state. “Disciplines at Brown continue to be dominated largely by ‘classical’ canons, comprised of scholars and scholarship that is almost entirely Western and white. The replacement of these statues not only removes images that honor Brown’s history of violence, institutional racism, and settler colonialism, but also forces us to confront the legacies of imperialism and colonization that continue to shape our education.”

The article notes that Decolonization at Brown also takes an interest in other topics, including supporting “the efforts of other organizations toward the abolition of policing on and off campus …”

The article mentions 28 other student groups at Brown identified as allies.

Caesar Augustus and Marcus Aurelius have mixed records when it comes to western civilization. Augustus ruled Judea for about 40 years as emperor, sometimes with brutality. Marcus Aurelius persecuted Christians. But both are remembered for encouraging the development of learning and culture, and for forming bookends of a 200-year period of peace and stability in much of the world.

A senior who wrote a column in the student newspaper opposing removing the statues told The Providence Journal that she got blowback for pointing out that the two Roman emperors can’t easily be fit into models of white supremacy.

She focused on Marcus Aurelius.

“It’s ridiculous to boil down the apex of stoic philosophy and the legacies of one of the most influential emperors to white supremacy,” Nidhi Bhaskar told The Providence Journal. “The larger issue at stake here is an erosion of free inquiry that doesn’t conform to a leftist agenda. There is little space to maintain multiple perspectives. People are so afraid to speak up. I’ve received backlash from supporters of Decolonization at Brown. People are so afraid of being labeled a racist or an imperialist.”

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