NC Students Protest Racist Graffiti In Tunnel

Charlotte Observer, November 4, 2010

A reappearance of racist graffiti directed at President Barack Obama has protesters at North Carolina State University calling for changes to a part of campus dedicated to anything-goes speech.

Student protesters blocked access overnight to the Free Expression Tunnel, a major pedestrian thoroughfare that connects two parts of the Raleigh campus divided by railroad tracks. {snip}

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The Free Expression Tunnel was built in 1939, and was dedicated to freewheeling student speech in the 1960s. Sentiments painted or posted in the tunnel commonly range from the political to the mundane.

“Students are free to say whatever they like, and if you walk through the tunnel on any given day you’ll see advertisements for events, or you’ll see someone complaining about a boyfriend or girlfriend,” Nichols said.

The several dozen student protesters, though, say they want tighter restrictions on what can be depicted inside the tunnel.

Some of the proposed remedies include more surveillance cameras around the tunnel and stricter enforcement of a request, posted on a sign near the tunnel, that asks students to refrain from offensive messages.

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Two years ago, an NC State student who was never identified by the school apologized for spray painting racist, anti-Obama graffiti in the tunnel, shortly after the Democrat became the first black president in U.S. history.

The student was assigned community service and diversity training, which angered some civil rights groups that had advocated expulsion over the incident.

The Rev. William Barber, head of the state NAACP chapter, said {snip} “Whoever would write something like that in the tunnel again, on an amazing university campus, reveals something deeply problematic.”

{snip} the school issued a statement saying the best response to the graffiti is a campus-wide discussion.

{snip} “Our challenge is allowing freedom of expression while encouraging a constructive, open and diverse campus climate.”

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