The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Library exhibit vandalism violent, unwelcoming


The blackboards in the Hege Library were vandalized. Yes. Vandalized.

The chalkboard was discovered Sept. 21, with Trump-supporting speech, a Confederate flag drawing and negative speech about homosexuality. The news spread quickly around campus.

The controversial writing in Hege has brought to light feelings of anger, disappointment, confusion and a need for answers in the community. The blackboards in the library are part of the “Welcoming the Stranger” art exhibit. The question asked was, “How Do You Welcome the Stranger?”

I would not consider the Confederate flag a big welcome to our country if I was an immigrant, so does the drawing answer the question? We attend a college that stands strong for diversity. These recent events have also started classroom discussions, which should be allowed to include other opinions on the matter.

Although there have been forums held on the topic, students still have a number of questions about how the administration handled the situation and why an email wasn’t sent out sooner.

“What was written on the board was really offensive to people of color, women and members of the LGBTQ community, and I think that it is hurtful to a lot of members of the community on campus,” said Merrill Daniels, junior and co-president of the Conflict Resolution Resource Center.

“I feel that it was a mix of (art, vandalism and freedom of speech). I don’t think what they wrote on the board was the intention of the artist. I think the people who wrote it knew that and in that aspect it is vandalism.”

Guilford is known as a social justice college. It is a place open to diversity, different opinions and different ways of thinking.

This leaves me to wonder, how does this incident fit in with our core values? It seems like everyone should have the chance to express what they believe in, but what about the other members of the community who felt directly attacked?

In a forum held Sept. 28, the community started a dialogue about the situation and began moving forward. This was a way to allow all College community members a chance to express their feelings and concerns.

Yet I still wonder, how does the administration look at this incident, and what label do they give it?

“There were messages on one of the boards that were challenging to read and offensive to some,” said Theresa Hammond, director and curator of the art gallery. “Nonetheless, they are protected free speech under the First Amendment. Just as we don’t want libraries to ban books because someone finds the content to be disagreeable, we don’t want to censor individuals’ artistic expression.”

Jo Israelson, the artist of the exhibit, ex- plained that she expected there might be an issue about immigration since the exhibit has to do with ways we can make immigrants feel more welcome.

She was surprised to find that the discussion of freedom of speech has been brought up. Israelson has said that she chooses to do these community art pieces in order to involve the community in the art work and encourage a discussion.

“The comments did not relate directly to the question,” said Israelson. “(With) the erasing of other people’s work and other people’s word, there is a sense of vandalism. When you do community based artwork, you never know not only what response would be but what the treatment of the piece itself would be.”

It appears there is room for more discussion. Another forum is planned for the near future.

By erasing the contributions of others on the board, the person vandalized. Everyone deserves a voice, and erasing others’ voices is not how freedom of speech works.

“The vandalism of erasing other people’s work, I don’t know what you call that because if you’re going to advocate for free speech, then you have to allow other people’s words to remain,” said Israelson. “I think it’s all of it. There is an aspect of vandalism because it altered the intent of the piece.

“I do think there’s an aspect of free speech, however misguided, in the sense that it was not really applicable to the question on the piece.”

Either way, one thing is certain. I believe the Guilford College community will come together in a time of need and find a way to comfort each other through open dialogue. This incident has caused many students, staff and faculty members to react. It is clear from the administration that everyone will be allowed to speak at the forums and get there points across.

“It’s a good thing that it creates a discussion and a dialogue,” said Israelson. “I’m just fortunate that Guilford is the kind of place that does that. Other places might have just taken the piece down.”

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