November 19, 2018 | ° F

Faculty members signify spirit of William the Silent


Photo by Caitlin Higgins |

William the Silent stands in Voorhees Mall on the College Avenue campus and represents the Dutch culture of New Brunswick in 1766 when the University was established as Queen’s College.

Students who walk through Voorhees Mall on the College Avenue campus might notice a tall man in 16th century dress encapsulated in bronze standing in the middle of the square.

This man is William the Silent, a prince of Orange in the Netherlands. He led a revolt against Spain, establishing independence for the country through the Eighty Years’ War, said Angus Gillespie, a professor in the Department of American Studies.

The monument was donated to the University in 1928 on behalf of Fenton B. Turck, a physician who acquired the statue in the Netherlands after World War I.

William the Silent stands as a reminder of New Jersey’s Dutch culture, which was a prominent part of New Brunswick when the University was established as Queen’s College in 1766, Gillespie said.

“Basically, he can be regarded as the George Washington of the Netherlands,” he said. “One of the reasons why he got the nickname of William the Silent was that he refused to testify against the queen.”

Elizabeth Reeves, the assistant facilities planner at the University, said the Dutch culture around the area set the scene for the University’s diversity.

“They were an open culture. They believed in freedom of religion and the ideology that you can choose to believe or not to believe,” she said. “They were accepting of everybody, and that’s why Rutgers is such a diverse community. We tend to forget that.”

Reeves said many students are unaware of the statue’s significance and should become more acquainted with University history.

“A lot of people walk by him and don’t even know who he is,” Reeves said. “I still get telephone calls — ‘What’s the statue in the middle of the hall?’ — if they even notice it. It’s kind of a shame.”

Thomas Frusciano, the University librarian, said the statue is important for the University’s identity.

“I think having statues and monuments kind of reminds people of the long history of Rutgers,” he said. “That’s significant. I think it’s important to have those things.”

More students ventured into Voorhees Mall and were acquainted with the statue when Rutgers College held its graduation there, Frusciano said. But the ceremony was moved to the stadium back in 2007, when the School of Arts and Sciences was established.

Gillespie said it could be difficult to feel the connection with the University’s roots after years of restructuring.

“We’re talking about more than 200 years of evolution,” he said. “Rutgers has changed drastically. It’s no longer just about theology. Rutgers is a major research university, touching almost all aspects of the arts and sciences.”

Despite the drastic changes the University went through over the past 200 years, its origins should never be forgotten, Frusciano said.

“Rutgers was a small liberal arts college. It wasn’t really a state college, as it later became, but an institution should never forget its history,” he said.

Gillespie said the University administration should help incoming students become more aware of their new school’s beginnings.

“If, during freshman orientation, there was a little bit more — not just about the opportunities that Rutgers offers, but about the rich history that this institution has — that would be a nice thing,” he said.

Reeves said graduates should not only take away a degree with them when they graduate, but a piece of the University’s history, too.

“When you walk away with a Rutgers degree, you’re walking away with much more than that,” she said. “You’re walking away with being a part of the history and traditions of a fantastic school, and people don’t realize that.”

The statue has become more than a reminder of the University’s Dutch foundation. A playful rumor has spread throughout campus over the years about “Willy the Silent,” Gillespie said.

“Legend says if a Rutgers co-ed who’s a virgin would pass by, William the Silent would whistle,” Gillespie said. “But over the last 200 years, he hasn’t yet whistled.”

By Lisa Berkman

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