Student petitions for UO to remove allegedly racist mural in Knight Library

“The Mission of a University” mural in the Knight Library. (Ryan Nguyen/Emerald)

University of Oregon student Francesca Smith is petitioning the UO to remove a mural from the west side of Knight Library.

The mural is titled “The Mission of a University.” Smith draws issue with this phrase on the mural: “It means conservation and betterment not merely of our national resources but also of our racial heritage and opportunity to the lowliest.”

Smith, a first-year student, wrote in the online petition that she and her peers think the mural is offensive and “degrading to students of color.” She also says that she felt unwelcome to the UO because of it.

“It is not as though the campus library is an anthropological museum, documenting the racial grievances of a past generation, serving as a reminder to not repeat history,” Smith writes. “This is a library in a public university, whose contents and purpose serve to facilitate the pursuit of education and encourage acceptance for everyone who seeks knowledge to be able to gain it without fear of reproach.”

The petition describes how Oregon has been a historically white state and how racism was imbued in the legal system; for example, the 15th Amendment — which gives all citizens the right to vote regardless of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude” — was not ratified in Oregon until 1959.

“The argument that these professors lived in a ‘different time’ or any other sort of euphemistic jaw-flapping is just given to excuse the existence of overtly racist statements and symbols,” wrote Smith.

It also describes how several academic and resident halls on campus that were named after “individuals… who were involved with the KKK” still have not been renamed such as Hawthorne Hall after Confederate officer Benjamin Hawthorne.

“We are ‘the lowliest,’ being thrown a bone in order to humor the university and bolster its ability to boast of its percentages of racial minorities,” Smith writes. “This façade of inclusion and diversity is shameful and hard to justify in the 21st century.”

At the time of publishing, 146 individuals have signed the petition.