The Free Speech Wall is causing controversy on Cal Poly’s campus again.
Offensive remarks — including messages and drawings considered racist, anti-Islamic, transphobic and sexist — appeared on the wall beginning Friday, according to Mustang News and social media posts from students.
The wall on Saturday was filled with a variety of messages, including some that were politically charged and referred to presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the Black Lives Matter movement and Native American protests of the Dakota Access pipeline. Others paid homage to popular TV shows “Game of Thrones” and “Parks and Recreation” or promoted positivity and contained inspirational quotes.
But the comments in question included terrorist-themed Muslim caricatures and racially charged references to African-Americans. Other messages made fun of a woman’s body type and criticized the school for allegedly focusing on “racial/gender quotas.”
The wall was placed on Dexter Lawn on Thursday by Cal Poly College Republicans as part of an annual tradition. The group said in a statement on its Facebook page that the purpose of the wall is “to commemorate the fall of the Berlin Wall and to recognize the freedoms granted to us by this great nation.”
Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong issued a statement Friday morning after the disparaging comments were found.
“For several years we have had an opportunity to participate in a Free Speech Wall erected on Dexter Lawn by one of our student organizations,” the statement reads. “Many individuals express themselves by writing comments or drawing images on the wall. It is an important exercise of our right to free expression.
“Unfortunately, I learned today that someone added comments and images to the wall that are offensive and hurtful to some members of our community. While it is the role of our university to provide an open forum for all forms of thought and expression, I want to be very clear that these comments do not reflect the values of Cal Poly. We do not support hate and bigotry at our university.
“Even though the right to free speech is a fundamental right we honor and hold dear, I urge you to consider the perspectives of others and the full impact of your words and images. They may be much more hurtful and destructive than you realize. Micro aggressions, unconscious bias and offensive comments can cause great pain to others, undermine the climate of our campus, and ultimately degrade the experience we have at Cal Poly.”
The statement concluded, “Please stand with me, and the leadership of your university, to declare that at Cal Poly we value the diversity of all people and the inherent worth of every human being.”
Mark Powell: 805-781-7915
Staff writer Lindsey Holden contributed to this report.