MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- A student group's mural on the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus has ignited conversation and controversy.
The U of M College Republicans group painted a mural yesterday in the group's designated spot along the Washington Avenue Bridge.
Dozens of student groups paint murals along the inside walls of the pedestrian level of the bridge every fall.
This group's read in part "Build The Wall," which refers to presidential candidate Donald Trump's proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The sign was later vandalized with the words "Stop White Supremacy."
Multicultural groups who did not support the vandalism later gathered to protest what they called "anti-immigrant" hate speech.
"There's freedom of speech but then there's hate speech. It's one thing to be conservative and it's another thing to be saying these things that are clearly xenophobic and targeting specific groups of people," Guillermo Perez said.
Perez is a member of Sigma Lambda Beta, a Latino-based multicultural fraternity that happens to have the panel next to the College Republicans.
"I was really angry, angry because it's an attack to my people because I am Mexican," Perez said.
The group responded using its own panel, which said, "Building bridges, not walls."
"We're trying to seek, at the very least, an apology and recognition that what they did was wrong," Perez said.
U of M President Eric Kaler said while some may find the initial message offensive it is protected speech and should not have been vandalized.
He released a statement saying:
"During the annual 'Paint the Bridge' event, an opportunity for registered student groups and University departments to promote their groups by painting a panel on the Washington Avenue Bridge, one panel assigned to a student group has received attention. The panel includes the phrase from Donald Trump's presidential campaign, 'Build the wall.' While this is protected as free, political speech, we have heard from members of our community who find the phrase hurtful, offensive, anti-immigrant, and anti-Latinx.
"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.
"The University of Minnesota supports a campus climate that welcomes all members of our community and our values of equity and diversity, but that also ensures the free flow of ideas, even those that are offensive to some. As students and our community participate in responses to this and future issues, I urge all of us to be respectful and thoughtful in our approach. We encourage all who find some protected speech distasteful or offensive to engage in more protected speech."
The College Republicans also released a statement Saturday.
"We find it highly disturbing that someone would vandalize a simple statement such as 'build the wall'.
"We have received comments on the painting, falsely accusing us of being racist, xenophobic, and anti-immigrant. 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 actions taken against our panels run contrary to free speech. It's worth noting that numerous politicians from both parties support building a wall on the Mexican border.
"President Obama, Vice-President Biden, Secretary Clinton, and Minnesota Governor Dayton have all supported building a wall on the Mexican border while they were U.S. Senators (Secure Fence Act of 2006). We look forward to students writing angry letters and reporting these Democrat politicians to the Bias Incident System for hurting their feelings as well.
"Regardless of how one feels about border security or Mr. Donald J. Trump, it is never acceptable to infringe on other people's freedom of speech. University policy clearly states, 'Any alteration(s) to any panel by any person(s) outside of these designated time(s) is considered vandalism and subject to University Policy and/or local, state and federal laws.'
"We appreciate President Kaler's statement of support for our freedom of speech and we expect the university to continue to uphold their commitment to freedom of speech and diversity of thought."
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