Campus climate meeting met with backlash by ‘Build the Bridge’ protesters

At least 100 people marched on campus Thursday to protest President Eric Kaler’s reaction to a “Build the wall” painting on the Washington Avenue Bridge.

Students walk from Coffman to the Wellness Center rallying against hate speech on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016 in Minneapolis.

Easton Green

Students walk from Coffman to the Wellness Center rallying against hate speech on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016 in Minneapolis.

David Clarey and Layna Darling

The first in a series of conversations led by University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler on campus climate ended abruptly Thursday afternoon after protesters interrupted the meeting.

University students, faculty and community members protested Kaler’s response to a “Build the Wall” panel painted by University student group, College Republicans, as part of the school’s Paint the Bridge event. At Thursday’s event, demonstrators accused Kaler of protecting hate speech as free speech.

At least 100 protesters marched from Coffman Memorial Union to the discussion at the University Recreation and Wellness Center, chanting, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, racism has got go.”

“I am one of many black students on this campus, one of many Muslim students on this campus, and I am one of many women on this campus,” protester Maya Mohamed said to the crowd. “And it is not fair that I do not feel safe because of this statement.”

Protesters addressed Kaler directly, calling him a hypocrite for defending College Republicans’ freedom of speech while failing to recognize, they say, the same free speech rights of six students who were arrested for protesting tuition hikes at a Board of Regents meeting in June.

“I do think that my message over the weekend about ‘Build the wall’ should have been more inclusive about recognizing the pain it caused,” Kaler said, adding that he regrets weak wording in a campuswide email concerning the College Republicans’ panel.

Student Body President Abeer Syedah told protesters to “cause a scene.”

“President Kaler had the audacity to tell me [in a meeting] that he believes protests accomplish nothing for conversation,” she said. “Keep that in your hearts today when you go and protest.”

Joanna Nunez, a 28-year-old Ph.D. student in feminist studies and a Whose Diversity? member, said she hopes that Kaler will take a stand against hate speech.

“The Univeristy sanctions hate speech, but speaks out against protests and activism. We want [Kaler] to change that,” she said.