WILLIAMSBURG (AP) — The College of William & Mary is investigating the defacement of a Thomas Jefferson statue on the school’s campus after someone painted Jefferson’s hands red and wrote “slave owner” on the ground nearby.

In an email Tuesday, the college’s Director of News and Media Suzanne Seurattan wrote that the school is determining how to remove the paint without leaving damage. The statue is near the heart of the Williamsburg campus.

The phrase “Slave Owner” was written in red spray paint at the foot of the statue. (Photo provided by Brendan Thomas)

Seurattan wrote that the school encourages civil discourse but that “it is never acceptable to deface property.”

Brendan Thomas, a 20-year-old history major from Fayetteville, Arkansas, said he noticed the graffiti while walking to a dining hall on Saturday. A photo he shared on Facebook was picked up by The Daily Caller, a conservative website.

Thomas told The Associated Press that it’s important to talk about Jefferson’s history of owning slaves, even if it’s uncomfortable.

The vandalism happened the same week that the Charlottesville City Council voted 3-2 to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee from Lee Park.

The motion gives city management staff two months to recommend how to move the imposing equestrian monument. The council also voted to re-name the park.

This vote received backlash from Republican gubernatorial candidates Denver Riggleman and Corey Stewart, who released statements saying they would act to prevent initiatives that they think are an attack on Virginia heritage. Stewart last week encountered protesters against his position when he visited Lee Park.

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