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Students reflect on Westminster’s George Washington statue

Before any student from Stock Hall, Behnken Hall or Olwell Hall can walk to Westminster College’s residential parking lot, they must pass a 3 feet by 9 feet bust of George Washington’s expressionless head and withstand its sharp-eyed gaze.

A grainy black and white photo shows a picture of George Washington's bust in front of some tree branches.
The George Washington bust appears to cry after an unknown vandal glued tear drops on the statue, taken from an archived photo on page six of a 2005 edition of The Forum. This political protest was in response to George W. Bush’s inauguration, according to an article from past Forum reporter Trenna Ahlstrom. Photo Courtesy of Jessica Falkner. Image description: A grainy black and white photo shows a picture of George Washington’s bust in front of some tree branches.

Though some faculty and off-campus students might be unaware of this statue, any student who has lived in the Residential Village and abided by the mandatory two-year residency requirement will be familiar with Washington’s head. 

The statue was originally a gift to commemorate the friendship between Peggy Stock — who presided over Westminster College from 1995 to 2002 — and a former George Washington University’s president, according to the plaque sitting underneath the bust.

In 2002, the year of the statue’s arrival on Westminster’s campus, Forum editor Matthew Gaschk referred to it as “hideous” and questioned its relevance to Westminster.

In a letter he wrote to the readers of The Forum, Gaschk said, “What’s the most important thing to Westminster College? Money. Whose bust rests on the front of the one dollar bill? George Washington. If you hold up a one dollar bill, it almost looks like the model used to create the giant George Washington head […]” 

Some current students said the statue is a confusing symbol. 

“It’s stranger to me [more] than anything,” said Ben Snarr, a Stock resident and sophomore computer science major. “I mean you’re looking around and then it’s just George f*cking Washington.”

For others, the statue is not just an oddity, but a dissonance in Westminster’s promise of inclusivity. Though George Washington is not technically a symbol of confederacy, he was a slave owner and is therefore relevant to recent “demands for a more honest accounting of American history,” according to the New York Times

“I think it’s just counter-intuitive for our school — our university — that we preach for like advocacy and inclusivity, and then we have a monument recognizing someone who owned slaves and was […] racist,” said Josie Chesley, a former Westminster student and sustainability manager at Chesley Electric.

The statue made an impression on one newly-arrived Westminster student as well.

“It’s weird we have [the bust] up here, cause he had slaves and stuff,” said first-year psychology major Emiline Krieser. “What’s he got to do with us?”

Over the years, many Westminster students have tried to explain the bust.

Forum reporter Melissa Walker took a patriotic approach in her 2002 article and said George Washington is relevant to Westminster because he is a founding father of the U.S.

Whether the statue provokes indifference or disapproval, it isn’t treated with reverence. On Halloween 2021, the statue was vandalized with a jack-o’-lantern. 

“Yeah, you see a lot of stuff on there, especially during Halloween season,” Chesley said. “I’ve seen pumpkins, beer cans — and in the winter I’ve seen people pack snow onto its face.”

George Washington’s bust is shown outside of the residential parking lot with a small jack-o-lantern on top of his head.
A jack-o’-lantern sits on top of the George Washington statue located next to Stock Hall in October 2021. The statue is a site of many irreverent pranks, often in the spirit of Halloween, according to Josie Chesley, a former Westminster student and sustainability manager at Chesley Electric. Photo Courtesy of Lily Miller. Image Description: George Washington’s bust is shown outside of the residential parking lot with a small jack-o-lantern on top of his head.

The statue was also a subject of a political protest in 2005. An unknown vandal glued tear drops to the bust in protest of George W. Bush’s inauguration, according to a 2005 article by Forum reporter Trenna Ahlstrom.

Past and recent vandalizations of the George Washington statue on campus reflect a nationwide push to remove confederate symbols, according to multiple articles published by The New York Times. Since 2015, 114 memorials were removed across the U.S., leaving over a thousand confederate symbols still standing, according to a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center

There is a history of removing statues on Westminster’s campus as well, according to a 1998 Forum article by William Richlin, who referenced several bronze statues that had since been removed for unknown reasons.

Though there are conflicting opinions on George Washington’s presence on campus,  there are no significant calls for the statue’s dismantling, which allows it to remain indefinitely. 

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Lalise Eshete (she/her) is a sophomore at Westminster studying communication. She loves all things horror, swimming and any chance to try new food. On any given day you could find her reading a cheap slasher book or polishing her dodgy piano-playing.

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