Kaler needs to make strong moves in support of campus minority groups in response to recent hate speech

Lee Penn

Dear President Kaler,

I’m writing to urge you to make a bold and visible response to the recent “Build the Wall” panel painted in the Washington Avenue Bridge walkway. A statement emphasizing the University’s stance against racism and xenophobia is essential to building trust — especially among our students of color, our immigrant students and those who come from immigrant families, our students with disabilities, our Muslim students, our queer students and more.

Many of our students feel directly targeted by the College Republicans’ “Build the Wall” panel in the Washington Avenue Bridge walkway. At the student-led rally held there on Oct. 1, I heard one student state that she no longer feels safe on campus and feels she no longer belongs on this campus. I saw another student moved to tears as she described her experience as the daughter of a Mexican immigrant seeing the “Build the Wall” panel as she walked through the bridge walkway. I heard numerous students describe deep pain at seeing that slogan on the University of Minnesota campus.

Our students showed up and peacefully made their voices heard during the campus conversation event held on Thursday, Oct. 6. They were bold, clear, eloquent and inspiring. They took risks to appear before faculty, staff and students to describe the impact “Build the Wall” and your email response had on them.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which shares your position regarding the ideal of freedom of speech and the need for conversation around these difficult matters, “believes that the best way to combat hate speech on campus is through an educational approach that includes counter-speech, workshops on bigotry and its role in American and world history, and real — not superficial — institutional change.”

I urge you to directly respond to our students’ concerns about the “Build the Wall” panel by emphasizing one of the University of Minnesota’s guiding principles — we strive for an environment that “provides an atmosphere of mutual respect, free from racism, sexism, and other forms of prejudice and intolerance” (University of Minnesota mission statement, amended 2008). Please speak words that validate and empathize with the pain many of our students felt upon seeing “Build the Wall” in the Washington Avenue Bridge walkway. Organize events to directly address and educate people about the negative impacts of racism and xenophobia on excellence in all aspects of our university’s operations and in our nation.

With kind regards,

Lee Penn

University of Minnesota professor of Chemistry

Editor’s Note: This letter has been edited for style conventions.