A vandalism on our humanity

President Eric Kaler has responded to the “Build the Wall” panel with the argument that “free speech” is allowed by all, “even those that are offensive to some.” Through his response to the University, President Kaler has decided to shift the focus away from the rhetoric spilled by the student group College Republicans. 

He instead chose to focus on the actions of students who painted over this message. This is unacceptable. The institutionalized racism that exists on the University of Minnesota campus is not limited to this event. It has been shown time and time again through the lack of funds not only for ethnic studies departments but also for student cultural groups, and the lack of support on campus for students of color. He does not care about our safety. 

He does not care about the Latinx population, nor does he care about the other groups who have been attacked by Trump who are being told that our lives here on campus and in the United States don’t matter and that we do not belong in the U.S.

The statement “Build the Wall” goes far beyond simply being “offensive.” There is a long history of colonization and white supremacy that goes into statements like “Build the Wall.” For many of the immigrants that come here from Latin America and all over the world, the choice between staying in their respective countries or immigrating to the United States is choosing between violence and poverty in their country or facing constant oppression and a lack of opportunities here. 

Thousands have died on their journey to the U.S. Often the countries immigrants and refugees flee from were damaged in part by tactics the U.S. took against them, whether it be bombing, supporting coups or preventing their economy from growing. Undocumented people are held for months, even years, in detention centers that mimic prisons before being deported. People like Trump praise inhumane deportation tactics, and people like Kaler allow this to happen by protecting this rhetoric under the guise of “free speech.”

Kaler enjoys tokenizing the students of color on campus, praising the University on its “diversity.” Yet, in all matters that affect us as students of color, he chooses to instead protect those who make us feel afraid and unwelcome. Only last week, Kaler visited Coffman Memorial Union’s second floor in a lackluster attempt to “connect” with student groups. Instead of using this visit to connect with the cultural center, it was used as a photo opportunity. 

This visit was insincere, as there was a photographer documenting the entire exchange. President Kaler used this space for personal gain in order to promote the University agenda of “diversity and inclusion.” If this were the case, the discussion should have centered on how to better provide for students of color on campus. If Kaler truly believes in understanding us, the first thing he should do is listen to our anger and sadness over statements like “Build the Wall.”

La Raza Student Cultural Center, Navigate MN, Students for Justice in Palestine

Editor’s Note: This letter has been republished with permission and has been edited lightly for style conventions.