Fifteen first-year University of Oregon students are spearheading an effort to petition the University of Oregon to remove a mural that they believe to be racist, located in the Knight Library.
Francesca Smith is the leader of the group, and she first learned about the mural when a graduate instructor in one of her classes took Smith — and the rest of Smith’s class — to Knight Library’s west stairwell to see the mural.
The mural is titled “The Mission of a University.” After seeing the mural, Smith said her jaw dropped. She took issue with the part of the mural’s text that read, “It means conservation and betterment not merely of our national resources but also of our racial heritage and opportunity to the lowliest.”
“It’s easy to complain about something harmful,” said Smith, “but it’s another thing for someone to step up and actually do something about it.”
Smith said that other students in her class also took issue with the phrase and other phrases in the statement. So, she introduced the idea of a petition in a Snapchat group chat of students in the discussion section.
“A lot of them aligned with the same view that I had,” said Smith.
She began drafting the petition that same night, and it took a few weeks to research and create.
Annabelle Kline-Zilles is a first-year student at the University of Oregon who was also part of the group that was taken to see the mural.
“It’s not something that I would expect to see in a university in 2017,” said Kline-Zilles, an environmental studies major. “I can’t believe that this is here.”
Kline-Ziles said that after her class saw the mural, other students said they felt uncomfortable or very surprised.
“Conversation started right there,” she said. “The word ‘lowliness’ was found discriminatory and even degrading toward minority groups.”
After that, a group of fifteen students continued to talk about it outside of class in a group chat, and Kline-Ziles said that when Smith mentioned the idea of a petition, it was well-supported.
In the petition, Smith states that the mural is “riddled with racist and white supremacist undertones,” and that the mural causes students of color to feel unwelcome, “denigrating our very existence on this campus.”
Smith and another student plan to speak with the Dean of Libraries to discuss the possible removal of the mural.
Comments on the petition include: “It’s disgusting to see this kind of thing on a supposedly ‘progressive’ campus. U of O is all talk, but doesn’t want to take any action when it comes to racist things like this and the name of Deady Hall,” and, “It doesn’t express what the U of O stands for!”
UO commissioned UO art professor Nowland Zane to design the mural, which is a painting on canvas affixed to a niche in the wall according to the UO Libraries website. Frederick Young, a former professor of history and dean of Oregon’s School of Sociology, wrote the text. Zane also designed the mural “Opportunity for the Youth of Oregon” for the Knight Library’s East Stairwell.