The College Republicans panel has always been a point of controversy during each fall semester’s paint the bridge event. I believe what this issue speaks to is not what speech is protected by the first amendment, but what kind of speech is tolerated and promoted by the University of Minnesota. The panel that’s painted by the College Republicans each year doesn’t necessarily belong to the students who are painting it, but rather the University itself.
The groups who paint panels during the event aren’t charged with vandalism because they have authorization to promote their groups from the University. The fact that the panels on the bridge belong to the University means that speech on the bridge can be interpreted as being affiliated with, and potentially promoted by, the University of Minnesota. Considering the panels are located on a very heavily trafficked part of campus, are surrounded by promotions for other University sponsored groups, are located on a bridge that is literally painted maroon and gold and are even a part of the campus tours for prospective students, it isn’t unreasonable to think that the speech on the panels is related to the University itself.
The question then becomes whether or not the speech on the College Republicans panel is aligned with the values of the University of Minnesota, and does not contradict the goals of the institution. Taken directly from the Board of Regent's mission statement, “In all of its activities, the University strives to sustain an open exchange of ideas in an environment that … provides an atmosphere of mutual respect, free from racism, sexism, and other forms of prejudice and intolerance … and empowers the individuals within its community." The College Republicans speech on the bridge does not align with the values of our mission statement, and does directly contradict its goals.
One of the most stark images painted on their panel this year was a portrait of a plane flying into the twin towers, placed directly next to a sentence pulled from a speech given by Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. It is hard to believe that anyone would feel empowered by, or even comfortable with an illustration of 9/11, especially when placed directly next to the name of a Muslim woman of color. Not only is a crude painting of 9/11 a distasteful depiction of a national tragedy, but also a painful reminder of the after effects it has had on the Muslim community, a community which is part of our University. This directly violates the goals of the mission statement. The University should not allow the type of speech that was depicted on the College Republican's panel to be painted on the bridge. While it may be protected as free speech for the group members, the panel itself is under the jurisdiction of the University, and when the speech on the panel violates the very mission statement of this institution, it should be taken down. While I don’t believe vandalism is the solution to the problem, I can certainly sympathize with the motives of those who do it.
Kylie Smith is a sophomore at the University of Minnesota.
This letter to the editor has been lightly edited for style and clarity.