A majority of IU believes the controversial KKK mural should stay in the classroom
‘The mural has a place, but the classroom is not it’
Under the Trump Administration there's been an alarming resurgence of white supremacist and neo-Nazi rallies. In the midst of tragedies like the murder of Heather Heyer, what was once a plot line in Parks and Recreation has turned into a reality at Indiana University.
A petition circulating the student body of Indiana University is calling for the removal of a mural that depicts the Klu Klux Klan in historical Indiana. Similarly, in season two of Parks and Recreation, residents of Pawnee — a fictional Indiana town —call for the removal of racist murals.
The mural in Bloomington that is hung in Woodburn Hall was originally created by Thomas Hart Benson in 1933 and has been a source of contention and controversy ever since. The panel is supposed to depict “the role and influence of the Ku Klux Klan in state politics during the early 1890s” according to the Division of Student Affairs website. However, others argue that this is a distraction in the classroom and sends a message of indifference to the students and faculty of color that have class in that hall.
The author of the petition, Jacquline Barrie, says that now it is more important than ever to discuss the controversy and come to a solution that allows students to feel safe in their studies. “Between the attacks on Charlottesville and various other events, I decided I had to take action, or at least try something," Barrie said. "A petition seemed manageable and possible to make something happen or at least get people talking about it.”
When Barrie was a student at Indiana University in 2006 she wasn't aware of the controversy behind the Benton murals. But after hearing about the situation from a friend’s Facebook post, Barrie decided to take action.
Since going live two weeks, the petition has already achieved its original goal of 1,000 signatures and is now aiming for 1,500.
Assistant Vice President of IU Ryan Piurek and the Vice President for diversity and the Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Multicultural affairs James Wimbush have responded to the call for action. Barrie updated the original petition to say that their response isn't enough.
By leaving the mural in place, Barrie believes IU is acting hypocritically to the university's values. “Yes, we as an educational institution realize this art piece might distract or offend you, but it's more important to have it so we can represent the history of Indiana even if it makes you uncomfortable by depicting a hate group who hates you as a person because of the color of your skin, religious background, or sexual orientation," Barrie said, mocking the university. "We are inclusive and we don't hold those same values as the KKK but we will force you to take a class in a room with it on the wall.”
Despite the momentum of the petition, the responses from the Bloomington community have are mixed. The Tab surveyed 244 people on their stance regarding the mural, 59 percent of which voted that the mural should say. Only about 41 percent voted that the mural should be removed.
Recent IU graduate Summer Adamson believes that taking down the mural romanticizes the history of Indiana which includes some aspects that are tragic and horrific. “This mural was designed to reflect Indiana's past, the good and bad, and we don't get to hide the bad entirely simply because we don't like it.” Adamson said.
This response is shared by other alumni as well. Martie Hoofer was a student at IU when the mural was installed in Woodburn in 1993. “I don't have a problem with it — it's a part of Indiana history. I don't have to like it to acknowledge that did happen. I view it as a learning opportunity we should use to discuss why those views are not acceptable,” Hoofer said.
Other students are concerned that their fellow classmates who are people of color have to focus in a classroom that depicts such a disturbing period of history. “IU has a duty to respect their students, and I feel by keeping the mural up, they aren't respecting students of color," said Paige Hankins, a senior at IU. "The ideal solution would be to cover it up, at least in my opinion.”
Doctor Gabriele Abowd Damico, an art teacher at IU, also agrees with taking down the mural, although her stance has changed since she originally heard about the petition. When she teaches her students about the Benton murals, she provides context that the average person who sees the offensive images doesn't get. "Even even when it is explained, the images evoke such painful aspects of our culture, alive still today to be sure, that perhaps that’s reason enough to remove it from the classroom setting and into a museum instead,” Abowd Damico said.
Once the petition reaches 1,500 signatures, it will be delivered to the IU Board of Trustees.
“The mural has a place but the classroom is not it." Barrie said. "We must continue the fight and quest to have it relocated.”