Vandalism of “Welcoming the Stranger” art exhibit in Hege Library Art Gallery

On Sept. 21, a Guilford College librarian discovered that the “Welcoming the Stranger” art exhibit on the first floor of Hege Library had been vandalized.

The part of the display that invited people to write on a chalkboard about how to welcome a stranger was covered in slogans supporting Donald Trump, Biblical scriptures, a drawing of the rebel Confederate battle flag and speech pertaining to gender identity. The previous writing on the board was smudged out.

“The blackboards are there for us to talk about issues related to this idea of immigration and welcoming strangers,” said Theresa Hammond, director and curator of the Art Gallery.

The incident was reported to Hammond, who informed Todd Clark, vice president for student affairs and dean of students, in order to follow procedure.

The exhibition artist Jo Israelson felt that the writings did not answer her questions and considered it graffiti originally, according to Hammond. The blackboards are there for students to fill with their thoughts. Once the boards are filled, they’ll be photographed for future discussion, Hammond said. Israelson left the decision of whether to remove the writings on the board to Guilford College. Hammond decided to leave the writings on the blackboard and once filled it would be erased by Hammond like planned.

Students appeared surprised after receiving the news of this event.

“I was very shocked and in disbelief because Guilford is known to have people who have open minds and don’t judge other people based on their appearances,” said senior Livia Zuleta. “It is a disappointing and a huge blow for me. It makes me sad to know someone took the time to do something so hateful.”

Junior Maria Belen Kouba, who participated in weaving a patchwork for part of the exhibition, had a similar reaction.

“I didn’t have words at first,” Kouba said. “I feel a little bit attacked, and the fact that it happened on campus (means) everyone should know and understand what’s going on. Hiding problems won’t solve them. I found out through a friend. No one reached out to me and told me.”

Faculty members also expressed their disappointment with the writings.

“I did not see the actual offensive items on the chalkboard, but I saw a picture of them. I was deeply saddened by them,” wrote Parag Budhecha, writing director and visiting assistant professor of English and creative writing, in an email. “As an institution of learning, we have a responsibility to allow a variety of voices and perspectives to be heard. The difference here, though, is that the comments and images implied a threat to some groups within our community. And this is what we, as a community, should stand against. There’s a difference between voicing your opinion and causing emotional injury to others.”