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‘Build the Wall’ mural at University of Minnesota sparks protest

Courtesy of NAVIGATE MN
A controversial "Build the Wall" mural painted by the University of Minnesota College Republicans sparked conversation and protest over the weekend.

Each year around this time, student groups at the University of Minnesota promote their mission with panel paintings on the busy Washington Avenue Bridge, which connects the east and west banks of the Twin Cities campus. 

This year’s “Paint the Bridge” event was completed on Friday. But one message from the university’s College Republican student group that read in part “Build the Wall,” sparked an uproar on social media and a protest.  

On Friday evening, Minneapolis-based NAVIGATE MN — a nonprofit organization that advocates for undocumented immigrant students — posted the image on its Facebook page, saying that it “echoes the anti-Mexican, anti-immigrant racist rhetoric” of Donald Trump, the Republican presidential candidate.  

On Saturday afternoon, the group led more than 150 immigration activists and student groups to the bridge in protest of the controversial painting, which also drew criticism from University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler and state Sen. Kari Dziedzic. 

“This political campaign is turning people against one another and is using the tool of dehumanizing other human beings for political gain,” said Emilia Gonzalez Avalos, of NAVIGATE MN, at the protest. “Your free speech hurts … and marginalizes people. There [should be] a line.” 

Protesters gathered around the panel painting, which was later overwritten with the words “Stop White Supremacy” — an act of vandalism that many protesters condemned. “I don’t like vandalism,” Dziedzic said. “They have their free speech, and we have our free speech. But I think we can reach out and we can be louder.”

She added: “As the granddaughter of Polish immigrants and Irish immigrants, I think we need to be building bridges … not walls. That’s kind of what America is. This is where people have opportunities. We don’t care what your background is, and we don’t care where you came from. We all came from some place else.”

MinnPost photo by Ibrahim Hirsi
On Saturday afternoon, more than 150 immigration activists and student groups gathered in protest of the controversial painting.

In a statement released on Saturday, the president of the Republican student group, Madison Faupel, responded to both the allegation and the vandalism. “We have received comments on the painting, falsely accusing us of being racist, xenophobic and anti-immigrant,” she said. “Our party’s nominee supports building a wall on the Mexican border to stop the flow of illegal immigrants into this country. We understand that some students may disagree with this policy position. However, free speech is at the center of a functioning democracy, and the action taken against our panels runs contrary to free speech.”

Kaler, the U of M president, also sent a statement to the students and faculty members prior to the Saturday protest. “The University of Minnesota supports a campus climate that welcomes all members of our community and our values of equity and diversity,” he said, “but that also ensures the free flow of ideas, even those that are offensive to some.” 

He added: “People in our community may disagree with the sentiment expressed. However, while the University values free speech, the subsequent vandalism of the panel is not the way to advance a conversation.”

MinnPost photo by Ibrahim Hirsi
University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler: “While the University values free speech, the subsequent vandalism of the panel is not the way to advance a conversation.”

Comments (35)

  1. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 10/03/2016 - 09:41 am.

    As one commentor noted…

    ..the College Republicans misspelled the word “college” on their mural.

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 10/05/2016 - 11:53 am.

      Walls In Our Minds

      I don’t see any annotations on the mural that indicate who painted it, so this may be nothing more than a nice tale.

      Sadly, I have a young relative who did indeed misspell “college” at his high school graduation party. He passed out a missive about how Jesus told him he shouldn’t go to college and instead should go to England for a year to minister to young people. Basically he just wanted to take a year off and go travel and preaching was a social acceptable avenue as far as his parents were concerned.

      Oh, and could his relatives please contribute to his travel fund so he could go have a good time. I mean proselytize to the unsaved.

      And yes, he spelled college as “collage” on the sheet he passed out. I often wonder if his appeal was meant to double as an art project.

    • Submitted by chuck holtman on 10/05/2016 - 12:35 pm.

      And as the mural depicts, the wall would be constructed

      In cinderblock columns rather than courses. So even if they built it, it wouldn’t stay up very long anyway.

      • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 10/06/2016 - 11:57 am.

        But Of Course

        I noted that too, but figured it was a function of poor artistic skills. A ruler (preferably not an orange one) would have helped the mural before they started drawing.

  2. Submitted by Tim Walker on 10/03/2016 - 10:03 am.

    Madison Faupel: “We have received comments on the painting, falsely accusing us of being racist, xenophobic and anti-immigrant.”

    No.

    You, your student group, and the candidate you support are racist, xenophobic, and anti-immigrant. Your actions betray you.

    Maybe Madison can send out a follow-up press release explaining the photo of her with a smiling face and standing next to a white male with blackface makeup on.

    (It can be easily found via a Google or a Facebook search.)

  3. Submitted by Julie Moore on 10/03/2016 - 12:14 pm.

    What we say matters . . .

    What bothers me is not what they say it’s why. We have freedom of speech, but it seems we have become a country of just trying to stir things up. This message does nothing to support their candidates, nor does it do anything to convince those undecided to change their vote or look for more information. It just tries to cause conflict. What good is that doing in a country that is hurting in unity already?

    • Submitted by Michael Menege on 10/04/2016 - 09:45 am.

      An Isaac Asimov quote has been circulating lately that sums up the motivations of the ‘Build the Wall’ crowd:

      “Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’”

      • Submitted by chuck holtman on 10/04/2016 - 11:40 am.

        Precisely.

        President Kaler’s trite statement about free speech was abysmal and served to equate all parties in a happy world of reasoned civic discourse that exists to the same extent as my pet unicorn.

        As the leader of an institution that in theory exists to foster critical thinking, Kaler should have challenged the College Republican children to articulate a coherent policy position on immigration that draws on actual facts and is clear and open about the fundamental values on which it rests. He, along with other leaders, can affirm that our society ascribes to free speech but can teach that free speech imposes a responsibility on those who exercise it.

        I don’t share the interest in keeping the words from being painted; whether or not they are painted, 35 percent of the population is thinking them, and that is the problem. President Kaler could have stood with students of color and all people of good will by embarrassing those who simply spout ignorant slogans, while at the same time advancing the broader but critical proposition that if you prefer to be ignorant, that’s a fine choice, but you have a responsibility to keep out of the public discourse and certainly out of the voting booth.

        • Submitted by Rory Kramer on 10/06/2016 - 09:06 pm.

          What’s wrong with it?

          What’s wrong with President Kaler’s response in pretty much saying that both sides of an issue need to respectful of the other group’s positions? I applaud him for reacting the way he did. Not every student that attends the U is a card-carrying liberal. I should know. I was one of those not issued a DFL-registration or an ACLU membership at orientation. I believe in free speech. I believe that everyone is entitled to their opinion. As a Republican, I personally can’t swallow Trump’s ideas and there’s no way I will vote for Hillary as they’re both egomaniacs and they’re only running for President to fill some unfulfilled dream of the ultimate power trip. The College Republican’s are just endorsing their candidate. Did they really need to paint “Build the Wall?” No. But they have every right to do what they did.

          • Submitted by chuck holtman on 10/07/2016 - 03:46 pm.

            What’s wrong.

            As an aside, I haven’t been on Washington Ave bridge in awhile, but as memory serves me, the panels aren’t for the purpose of political discourse, they’re so that various campus groups can advertise their existence. If that’s the case, there’s a question of whether painting “Build the Wall,” even if it were considered legitimate political discourse, is within standards and custom. My memory may be wrong.

            To your question, I disagree with your statement that “everyone is entitled to their opinion.” In private, yes. But there are standards for public discourse (even if honored profoundly in the breach). When I engage in civic discourse (and when I vote), my act has an effect on others, even if only in a small degree. It is not a private act, it is my participation in a collective act with a shared, correlative responsibility. This responsibility is that my contribution to civic discourse, and my vote, rest on my good faith effort to be reasonably informed and thoughtful, and that I be able to connect my position to underlying societal values or principles that others can inspect.

            “Build the Wall” isn’t civic discourse. It bears no relation to the articulation of a position on immigration. It’s simply an endorsement of the mob mentality of “hate the other” that Mr Trump is fostering solely to demonstrate to himself his own demagogic charisma. My point is that the President of a major university should express a little chagrin that his charges haven’t yet learned to distinguish between the two, and should seize the “teaching moment” to help his student body learn what legitimate civic discourse requires of them.

            • Submitted by Steve Rose on 10/11/2016 - 10:39 am.

              Build the Wall

              The Build-the-Wall panel on the Washington Avenue bridge was the visual equivalent of a sound bite; a message in a font easily read by passers-by, that represents a position. That position supports the law and order of a sovereign nation to secure its borders, and to welcome legal and vetted immigrants.

              President Kaler responded appropriately; the teaching moment is the respect for ideas with which one does not agree. Everyone likes their own ideas and their own world view; tolerance and respect for diversity isn’t always easy

              The take-away lesson for young conservatives is that those that deem themselves wiser will shout them down and scheme to silence the minority voice. Get used to it.

  4. Submitted by David LaPorte on 10/03/2016 - 12:33 pm.

    Unintended consequences

    Ironically, the College Republicans’ message is likely to backfire. A majority of college students oppose Trump and his xenophobic messages. But just being opposed does nothing to stop him. They actually have to get out and vote.

    This message, linked directly to the “Build the Wall” mantra, is likely to mobilize turnout. This paining will remind students that Trump has supporters who care enough to paint the bridge. It’s easier to vote than to paint the bridge, so the students can be sure that the painters WILL be voting.

  5. Submitted by John Ferman on 10/03/2016 - 12:57 pm.

    Murals on Public or Private Property?

    Who owns the panels on which the political murals were painted? Does the owner require a fee to place advertising on the panels? If the panels are ‘free’ public space, then the College Republicans were certainly entitled to their right to free speech. But in like manner anyone else is entitled to exercise their free speech through ‘reuse’ of that public space. Did that college group obtain permission from the appropriate public authority to post their message, if not is not their murals a defacement of public property for which removal comes at a price in dollars.

    • Submitted by Rory Kramer on 10/06/2016 - 08:56 pm.

      Painting the wall

      As a recent U of M graduate, here’s the info on these “murals”: At the beginning of the fall semester, the U allows any registered student group to advertise/promote their group on the panels in the Washington Ave Bridge enclosure the students utilize as they cross the bridge. I could be wrong but I believe the U of M technically owns the bridge.

  6. Submitted by Mark Peterson on 10/03/2016 - 12:57 pm.

    Build the wall mural

    Go ahead – build a wall; it worked so well for Berlin.

  7. Submitted by Bill Kahn on 10/03/2016 - 01:01 pm.

    Vandalizing the expressions of these folks, essentially censoring them, makes them less visible; I don’t think that is what you want on a college campus or anywhere else in the world. If some idiot is campaigning on one issue or another and demonstrates their shortcomings with every utterance, why would you want to stop them? You want to highlight it and make sure they are understood completely by all.

    If someone’s speech is a problem for you, “the remedy is more speech,” as the saw goes. This is far, far from any of the exceptions to free speech like “yelling ‘fire’ in a theater.”

    I was out to look at this during Open Streets on Saturday and met an illegal immigrant student who also found the art hurtful posing for a picture with the vandalized art, but it hurt me seeing this response because the First Amendment is bedrock for us all. To me, both the art and the vandalism screams, “I am an idiot,” of each creator; I can not stand with either, but I would never attempt to limit their freedom of expression. If they were going to vandalize things, it made more sense to paint in some commentaries from little cartoon characters as Tom Toles et al. do in their work.

    I look forward to the day when we have no drug war with peaceful and prosperous neighbors living well to the south with more open borders to those who visit and do business with us. Immigration should be a non-issue with prosperity and mutual respect globally.

  8. Submitted by Gerald Abrahamson on 10/03/2016 - 01:02 pm.

    Build a wall around Trump Tower.

    If they build it, it will be “Made in USA”.

  9. Submitted by joe smith on 10/03/2016 - 01:15 pm.

    College students don’t like either candidate.

    How sensitive are we at age 18-22 that we can’t see a mural that we don’t agree with and just walk on by without crying for a safe place or feel the need for “someone in authority” to fix it for us. It has gotten utterly ridiculous how many (I assume adults) here on Minnpost feel the” tender little flowers” are right to feel bad and someone needs to fix it… I’ve got news for the “tender little flowers”, you are going to hear and see hundreds of things way worse in the real world when you get out of the cocoon college has been become. Learn to voice your opinion and understand very few people feel exactly as you do on any subject. The “group think” that has become our educational system is not the real world. No wonder Hillary said they are living in their parents basements, it is safe there.

    • Submitted by Matt Haas on 10/03/2016 - 02:54 pm.

      Umm

      Its seems at least one “tender little flower” did more than seek a safe space. Or was it simple acquiescence to the viewpoint presented that you were looking for. Seems to me opposition to message, including calls for its removal, are no less free expressions of speech than the original mural. It seems you haven’t any issue with removing it from the debate though.

    • Submitted by Henk Tobias on 10/04/2016 - 10:48 am.

      I’m confused who the tender little flowers are

      wouldn’t they be the ones so fearful that they want to build a wall? And group think, good lord, is there any better example of that than Trump followers chanting build the wall, build the wall? Joe, maybe you should goggle psychological projection.

  10. Submitted by ChloeAlexa Landry on 10/03/2016 - 01:36 pm.

    Trumps Wall Folly……………………..

    The students are showing their ignorance of history. If it were not for immigrants the USA would not exist this day. They are also show more ignorance, in that no wall built in history, ever succeeded to stop anyone determined to break it. Ask the French about that. The youth of today are inept in following the old axiom of: ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’
    So it benefits all to really be aware of the past history of all things. Makes you a smarter and a better judge of things. Lets hope the perpetrators are first year students, so it can be forgiven them, for this lack.

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 10/06/2016 - 12:03 pm.

      Wall-E

      The students (and Trump and Republicans at large, for that matter) are also ignorant of basic physics. For a sufficiently motivated person, walls are ridiculously easy to bypass.

      A few years ago the magic duo of Penn & Teller did a short video to demonstrate the value of a wall. They hired an immigrant crew to spend a day building a wall for them. Then the broke the construction crew into teams of two and asked one team to go through, one to go under, and the last to go over the wall. The first team to the other side got a bonus.

      It’s been a while since I watched the video, but I seem to recall that it took all of two minutes for one of the teams to get to the other side.

    • Submitted by Steve Rose on 10/06/2016 - 02:44 pm.

      History, let’s take at it.

      This country was built by capable immigrants that were admitted to the United States of American legally. It was not built by immigrants that entered illegally, and that were not vetted.

      An excerpt about Ellis Island from History.com:

      “4. Immigrants were subject to physical and mental exams to ensure they were fit for admittance to the United States.

      Upon arrival at Ellis Island, immigrants were ushered into a room called the Great Hall and paraded before a series of medical officers for physical inspection. Most were allowed to pass by in a matter of seconds, but those whom the doctors deemed physically or mentally deficient were marked with chalk and taken away for additional screening. Questionable candidates were forced to submit to more detailed questioning and medical exams, and any signs of contagious disease, poor physique, feeblemindedness or insanity could see an immigrant denied admittance on the grounds that they were likely to become a ward of the state.”

      http://www.history.com/news/9-things-you-may-not-know-about-ellis-island

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 10/07/2016 - 11:08 am.

        Have at it. History-Wise

        “This country was built by capable immigrants that were admitted to the United States of American legally.” For nearly 100 years, there was no United States law prohibiting immigration. Until the 1890s, the only “vetting” of potential immigrants was screening female Chinese immigrants, to make sure they were really the wives of Chinese laborers.

        Ellis Island was only one port of entry for immigrants. It is the most storied, but given the number of ports in the US, the “vetting” was likely more haphazard.

        • Submitted by Steve Rose on 10/07/2016 - 12:17 pm.

          Legal Immigration

          In the heyday of Ellis Island, Baltimore was the second leading port of entry for immigrants. Immigrants were vetted there too. Regardless of how haphazard vetting was at various times and places, it was done as a part of legal immigration. The Build-the-Wall philosophy supports controlling our borders and properly vetting immigrants.

          In his acceptance of the Nobel Peace prize, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, “The disappearance of nations would impoverish us no less than if all peoples were made alike, with one character, one face. Nations are the wealth of mankind, they are its generalized personalities: the smallest of them has its own particular colors, and embodies a particular facet of God’s design.”

          • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 10/07/2016 - 01:53 pm.

            Yes.

            My point was that, for the first 100+ years of our history, there was no “illegal” immigration. The only exclusion from immigration was for the Chinese. The country was built by whoever came here, unvetted.

  11. Submitted by Joe Musich on 10/03/2016 - 10:11 pm.

    Seriously ….

    It amazes me we are arguing this issue the nation of immigrants that we are. And these college GOPers created this mural and they did not expect a reaction ? Come on. Read between the lines this is exactly why they did it dspite what they are saying. And I also I do not think there motivation was to expose those who would not allow for their “free speech” They were lighting a fire in a movie theater. All of these free speech arguments of recent times somehow slip outside that particular Supreme Court decision. And I include Citizen’s United. Tell me these hidden money is not being used to incite. I will say in response you are lying. Just look at the commercials created from these disguised sources. Tell me “falsity” is the not the territory these political commercials and the kind of behavior written about here are trying to geographically inhabit it the mind if not on the street. Go ahead try it. The Holmes metaphor was applied to War resistance which might be the reason it seems to be outside consideration by today’s courts.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 10/04/2016 - 12:40 pm.

      The Motive

      You are right: the reason for putting the mural up was to provoke. Those who want to provoke should not take umbrage at the reaction they get.

      • Submitted by Steve Rose on 10/07/2016 - 12:48 pm.

        Vandalism?

        That is the reaction they deserve? Free speech violated by vandalism. I am not if favor of that.

        The panels provide enough space for the visual equivalent of a sound-bite. The idea behind Build-the-Wall is control of our borders, which have become increasingly porous over time. We don’t know who is here, how they got here, nor what they did in their homeland before exiting.

        I don’t think that law and order is unpopular as many seem to think. Laws can be changed, but they should neither be willfully ignored nor circumvented.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 10/07/2016 - 01:57 pm.

          Vandalism

          They don’t deserve it, but, on some level, it’s what they wanted. The modern American conservative lives to complain, and what could be better for these kids than to crow triumphantly about intolerant liberals?

          “The idea behind Build-the-Wall is control of our borders, which have become increasingly porous over time.” Branding Mexican immigrants as rapists, drug dealers, etc., is just an expression of that sentiment, right? Likewise, keeping out Muslims which no one really wants to do now, even though the idea was greeted with enthusiasm when it was proposed.

  12. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 10/05/2016 - 08:27 am.

    the “shut down artist” continue..

    If it is the interstate – train lines – police precincts – public speakers – the “shut down” activist and those that justify them provide much comic relief to those who understand free speech.

  13. Submitted by Steve Rose on 10/10/2016 - 12:30 pm.

    “This Is What the U.S.-Mexico Border Wall Actually Looks Like”

    This Is What the U.S.-Mexico Border Wall Actually Looks Like

    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/03/160304-us-mexico-border-fence-wall-photos-immigration/

    Excerpt:

    “Donald Trump has famously and repeatedly promised to seal the border with a wall if he’s elected. He and others have promised to send people who illegally crossed the border—a number that appears to have leveled off—back to Mexico. For these people, the border wall isn’t an abstraction. Many parts of the border are already covered in fences. In other spots, the wall is not made of bricks, but out of scanners, drones, and guards.”

    The photo at the top of National Geographic article is on the California border and it was built during Bill Clinton’s presidency.

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