Earlier this month, the Second Floor Advisory committee held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to recognize the renovation of Coffman Union’s second floor, but some remain bitter over the project and protested at the event.
The renovation project began last summer and caused controversy because many murals outside student group offices were painted over. Many students were worried that the project would compromise the cultural essence of the student centers.
Protesting students, staff and faculty had signs displaying their disapproval at the ceremony. As the speakers — which included University President Eric Kaler and Board of Governors President Paul Rudeen — began to speak, members of the audience regularly called out against the project.
One of the murals outside the Black Student Union included events from the 1969 Morrill Hill Takeover, in which students protested for greater African and African-American presence on campus.
It’s clear the murals were important for many of the student cultural centers on the second floor. The Minnesota Daily reported last fall that keeping the murals was too costly, but photos of the murals are on a TV on the floor.
The event’s mixed emotions are troubling, just months after the project began. It was a time of celebration and observance of the second floor’s importance on campus, but many in the audience were still angry.
While the University controls how groups personalize and paint the second floor, the members of Coffman’s cultural centers should feel their presence is permanent on campus. The University designed those offices to be semi-permanent, but ridding the floor of important murals sends a message that the University is not sensitive to just how important cultural spaces are on campus. It’s vital that marginalized groups feel welcome and a sense of safety on the second floor.
Months after this project began, University community members still feel bitter. Seeing as the University controls who can paint on the floor’s walls, it could look to get cultural centers involved in a mural or art project to develop historical and cultural work on the second floor. To respect the history of minority groups on campus, the University and cultural centers should try to work together to move past the renovation.