'Build the wall' painting at the U of M: 'Hurtful' to some, but free speech

A "Build the wall" painting has not gone over well with critics.
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Some pro-Donald Trump, pro-wall paintings at the University of Minnesota have quickly drawn the ire of critics, with the messages being scrawled over – and one group even planning a rally in response.

The paintings

The University of Minnesota College Republicans painted the Washington Avenue bridge panels in Minneapolis with messages that support the current Republican Party nominee for president, Donald Trump. It took place during the annual Paint the Bridge event, where registered student groups and departments can apply to get space on the bridge.

They were happy with the results, so posted about it on Twitter and Facebook.

There's one with the group's info, one with "Trump Pence 2016" on it (for Trump's vice presidential pick, Mike Pence), and then one that says "Build the wall."

The Facebook post has 294 of those "angry" reactions, and, as I'm sure you can imagine, a lot of comments.

We've reached out to the U of M and the College Republicans for more information.

'Hurtful and hostile and painful'

The "Build the wall" panel in particular did not go over well with one organization

The group Navigate MN (a "leadership development program" for young immigrants in the state) said the message "echos [sic] the anti-Mexican, anti-immigrant racist rhetoric that has instigated violence across the nation." Here's their full statement on Facebook.

The group then organized a rally response at the site of the painted panels on the bridge. Titled

"Love trumps Hate,"

the rally is set for 4 p.m. Saturday. It specifically mentions it is a non-violent rally.

"Stand up together and let's all share the message that this is our community and we stand together against hate!!!" the description reads.

Braulio Carrasco, a volunteer adviser for Navigate, told GoMN the organization's response was not about supporting one candidate or the other. It's about the message that the "Build the wall" portion sends to the immigrant students who walk across that bridge every day – the way he did when he was a student there.

"I'm an immigrant," he said. "I would cross that bridge thousands of times in just one week. I'm the first one to go to college in my family, and alone, by itself, trying to go to college is a challenge when you're the first one doing it. It becomes even more pressing of an issue when you feel like the environment on campus is telling you you don't belong there, we don't want you there and you should leave."

He later added: "Here's the thing about hostilities toward communities of color. ... When you're doing messages like that, that is hurtful and hostile and painful to our psyche, to our heart, to our being. And it doesn't, the scars and the pain doesn't show like if you punch me or kick me, but it's the same thing."

Carrasco said they're standing in solidarity with all immigrants. How they arrived here doesn't matter, they're standing in solidarity, he said.

"Whether you're Hmong, Somali, it doesn't matter. If you're from an immigrant community you get it. You feel it and you understand," he said.

University enrollment figures show about 12.6 percent of students at the Twin Cities campus are international. Just over 3 percent of students are Hispanic, with about 4.3 percent black. Nearly two-thirds of the students are white.

Vandalism and a painting in response

And then there are the other paintings in response.

According to this photo from a Facebook user, the "Trump Pence 2016" and "Build the wall" paintings were painted over in gold with the message "Stop white supremacy."

And the fraternity Minnesota Betas, which was founded by mostly Latino men, responded by painting a panel next to the College Republicans' messages. They posted photos to Facebook.

The U of M's response

University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler, in a letter Saturday afternoon, said the painted panels are about free speech.

"People in our community may disagree with the sentiment expressed," Kaler said, adding that while the university "values" free speech, the vandalism of the panel (that'd be the gold paint over it) "is not the way to advance a conversation."

Kaler stressed the campus needs to "ensure the free flow of ideas" while also being a campus with a welcoming climate.

"We encourage all who find some protected speech distasteful or offensive to engage in more protected speech," he concluded.

Read his full letter here.

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