DALLAS (CBSNewsTexas.com) — Administrators with the University of Texas at Dallas have removed a fixture on campus for 15 years that was originally intended to boost school spirit and publicize upcoming events.
Instead, some students told CBS News Texas the "Spirit Rocks" have become a source of tension on campus as students painted messages on them in response to the deadly Hamas terror attacks against Israelis and the resulting war.
At first light Monday, crews replaced the rocks with new grass and trees.
Ofer Turjeman, a UT Dallas student originally from Israel, said the decision was reassuring. "It was a relief and I felt like I had a couple of big rocks on my shoulders, and they were lifted."
She is among the Jewish college students in North Texas who CBS News Texas spoke with recently about their concerns over the rise in antisemitism across the country and how their campuses reacted to the terror attacks.
Turjeman said some of the messages painted on the rocks were troubling for her and other students. "Anytime we would wake up and have to walk through this area where the rocks are, we would have to worry about if we would see anything that was a hate crime or hate speech."
Another UT Dallas student, Margaret Belford, criticized the university's decision to remove the rocks. "That feels like censorship."
On the pavement near where the rocks once stood, Belford wrote in chalk, "censored."
"The one lasting thing that you had to make sure a lot of people saw this and even to have artistic expression was the Spirit Rocks," she said. "Been here since 2008. It was a surprise."
In an email to students and faculty Monday morning, the Division of Student Affairs said:
"When three large rocks were placed near the UT Dallas Activity Center in 2008, the plan was for them to be painted in a manner that promoted school activities and events and to grow school spirit. For several weeks, messages on the rocks have been inconsistent with their original purpose and guidelines. After careful consideration, the rocks have been removed. The spirit rocks were not intended to be a display for extended political discourse, and because painted messages have been negatively impacting people on and off campus, our best solution was to remove them."
Turjeman said administrators told her and other concerned students the university had previously considered removing the rocks.
"They started talking to us about how they don't like the rocks and they think [they] stir unnecessary tension. I think it was the administration wanting to remove those rocks for a long time and having this whole situation gave them another reason to remove those rocks out of UTD."
Turjeman said she and other students never asked for the rocks to be removed and said she believes in free speech. "But there's a fine line between free speech and hate speech."
Students CBS News Texas spoke to on campus Monday are split over the decision.
Jared Perlmutter said he understood the decision, saying, "I think freedom of speech here is really good to have on campus. It's important and a lot of the students—including myself—have been concerned about that but with the recent conflicts, I think it makes sense why they chose to remove them."
Jordan Peterson expressed disappointment.
"I don't think they should have been removed because they are used by students," Peterson said.
"I was kind of shocked," Herman Poon said. "It's almost like an infringement on what students believe in."
A UT Dallas administrator was unavailable for an interview Monday.
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