The Cal Poly College Republicans said they wanted a conversation, and they got one.
More than 100 people turned out Friday for a planned protest over a wall the group annually constructs on campus, alternatively referred to as the “Free Speech Wall” or the “Hate Speech Wall.”
“You’re seeing dialogue on the wall,” College Republicans President Katherine Rueckert said, referring to the tradition of students scrawling various messages on the wall. “I think it’s wonderful, you’re seeing this conversation.”
In that spirit, she referred to somebody tagging the wall with the message “F--- Trump.”
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“Aside from it being strongly worded, it’s freedom of speech,” Rueckert said.
Then the message was altered to read, “I f---ing (heart) Trump.”
The wall was erected near Dexter Lawn on Wednesday to commemorate the fall of the Berlin Wall that separated democratic West Germany from Soviet-controlled East Germany.
“And it came down that night” as a result of vandals, Rueckert said.
Cal Poly President Jeffrey D. Armstrong sent a letter to the campus community before it was erected calling for “a civil discussion” about the wall, which has in the past featured offensive and provocative statements.
“While we support everyone’s right to express a variety of views and opinions on campus, we hope you will consider how your contributions might impact those who have felt marginalized, denigrated or demeaned,” Armstrong wrote.
Not everyone sees it as free speech.
Gabriela Guillén, who joined the Friday march and later spoke before the crowd, said the college Republicans failed to include other campus communities in discussing and planning for the wall.
“For that reason, it doesn’t reflect the views of all students,” Guillén said.
She added that walls are a “bad symbol” right now for many students, given President Donald Trump’s rhetoric regarding mass deportation and the construction of a wall between the United States and Mexico, which has become a flashpoint in the national immigration debate.
March organizer Matt Klepfer said the counter protest was more than a month in planning and involved 18 organizations. He called the march a blend of different visions.
“There’s a lot of different ways to create the world we want to see,” he said.
The march attracted a blend of protesters, onlookers and supporters of the wall. Rueckert watched as the protests took many forms. Some spoke out against it, others wrote their own messages on it and one woman burned sage near it.
Rueckert said she disagreed with the way people were characterizing her group’s statement.
“I don’t think it’s a hate speech wall,” she said.
The wall is only the most recent provocative move by the Cal Poly College Republicans this year. The group made headlines in January when they invited now-former Breitbart technology editor Milo Yiannopoulos to speak, and again when they invited conservative firebrand and author Lauren Southern on campus.