On October 28th, YAF at UVA hosted a speaker event to defend the legacy and integrity of Thomas Jefferson. The event featured the editor of National Review, Rich Lowry, and Congressman Chip Roy, who each spoke on the importance of remembering the ideals of America’s founding.
Both speakers acknowledged the complications of Jefferson’s past, noting that his downfalls certainly do not deserve to go unexamined, but also discussed the importance of recognizing his contributions to American progress. Congressman Roy described Jefferson’s ideals in the context of modern political issues such as immigration and COVID policies. Both speakers mentioned that though Jefferson was not perfect, his ideas and goals for the future of the United States serve as influence for a stronger and more united nation. Rich Lowry commented that “what you are saying by your presence at the University of Virginia is that someone can create something, who’s desperately flawed, who is wrong about really important questions, but his work is not just worth praising—intellectually or in theory—it’s worth living in, it’s worth experiencing, it’s worth spending four years of your life experiencing.”
The audience included a wide array of attendees, from alumni and students to local residents. After mounting opposition to the event, several students came forward during the question and answer session to inquire about the defense of Jefferson. One student mentioned that “being a black woman, I don’t understand the whole defense of Thomas Jefferson,” and went on to ask, “could you please expand on that thought? Because to me, it’s a contradiction to defend a man who signed the Declaration of Independence to give other people independence while he was literally a slave owner.” Rich Lowry responded, explaining that “it’s totally a contradiction. Obviously, it’s a contradiction… but we’re not honoring a random slave holder. We’re honoring a man whose achievements have influenced—literally—world history. People have been inspired by the Declaration throughout every other country in the world to aspire to freedom, to achieve more rights… Despite his flaws, that’s a tremendous human accomplishment.” Other students came forward to applaud the speakers on their approach to the topic.
The event was funded by Young America’s Foundation and The Jefferson Council and included introductory remarks from the national spokeswoman of Young America’s Foundation, Kara Zupkus, and the president of YAF at UVA, Nick Cabrera.
Cabrera noted that “the goal of this event was to foster open and meaningful dialogue among the Student Body. The event had exceeded my expectations,” and that it “was the epitome of what Free Speech is. A group of conservatives is able to host an event, open to the public, with questions in disagreement with the speaker’s point of view accepted and discussed. This is how political dialogue should be conducted in a collegiate setting, rather than the bickering, slander, and lies made behind a screen on social media.”
In response to the criticism from other students leading up to the event, Cabrera celebrated the outcome, exclaiming, “we prevailed. We hosted a successful event with nearly 200 attendees. Despite administrators bypassing our event, we look forward to bringing more nationally renowned speakers to Grounds.”
YAF at UVA will be hosting another speaker event December 2nd featuring Congresswoman Mia Love. It will be held in Newcomb Ballroom and will be open to the public.