EUGENE, Ore. -- The University of Oregon has moved to cover four murals at the Knight Library that have been deemed as “controversial” by many.
The murals have been around since 1937 and will cost $31,940 to cover up.
The Knight Library was vandalized in June.
Various student groups on campus have been working to bring attention to the controversial nature of the murals for years.
“This is something that is long overdue,” said Provost and Senior Vice President Patrick Phillips. “This is a historic time in our country, and we need to listen to members of our community who have felt the hurt and sting of racism on our campus."
Angela Noah is an incoming sophomore at the UO. She works closely with the Native American Student Union on campus and is the reigning Miss Indian at the UO.
“I always felt like I wasn't represented,” Noah said. “It just felt like a constant battle, and it was hard. When we fought, and I'm really happy that they're talking about this, this is the first time I've felt seen as a Native student on the UO campus. I want to see more conversations like this, and I'd love to see more input from Native students as well.”
Noah said that she wants campus to be an inclusive place.
“We're proud to be native,” Noah said. “There's so much beauty to our culture. There's so much that we can teach and offer. It does not look like a white educational institution. It looks more of stories, oral teachings and it always comes back to the spirit and making sure the body is good and making sure the community is good.”
Jan Smith has worked in the Knight Library for nine years.
“How could you look at those murals and not see what they are trying to express? Smith asked. “Being able to walk by it and it doesn't affect you means that your white privilege is keeping you from seeing it.”
Smith said she remembers seeing students protesting outside of the library a few years ago.
“I hope we have been working to try to make the library more welcoming,” Smith said. “I created a poster that says ‘welcome’ in all languages. I’m hoping that people on campus will understand that we need more signs of welcome, not things of the past or what things were in the past."
Kirby Brown is an associate professor of English and Native American Studies at the UO and the incoming director of the Native American Studies program. He is also an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee nation.
“They definitely reflect a kind of white supremacist understanding of Oregon history and insituating the mission of the university within, within those values and within that discourse,” Brown said.
Brown said that he hopes alternative murals can be replaced to capture more of the diversity and cultural beauty on campus. He said that multiple students and faculty members have worked behind-the-scenes to push for this decision to happen.
“They've long been controversial, at least for indigenous and students of color in faculty and staff of color on campus," Brown said. "I’m grateful that Provost Phillips, President Schill and the administration are taking these steps. I think it's long overdue.”
University officials said the murals will be covered before Oct. 1.
“I am firmly against the destruction or censoring of art in any form, but it would be disingenuous for anyone to say that these pieces, especially in a library whose central mission is to welcome and support the entire campus, are ‘just art,’" Phillips said. “They represent much more and it is incumbent upon us to address that fact. This action allows the pieces themselves to be preserved, and help us to look toward a new future of representation within these specific spaces.”
In June, the library was vandalized with red paint and shattered glass.
Kay Jarvis with UO said there was paint on the sidewalk and in the doorway involving the original portion of the building which was constructed in 1937. According to university officials, the vandalism seemed to be directed at phrase in a mission statement that is part of a mural. The phrase says "our racial heritage."
This is not the first time the mural has been at the center of controversy. In 2018, someone tried to cross out the phrase with red paint.
Jarvis said in a statement at the time that the university supports the right to free expression and protest "in this moment of national reckoning" but did not condone "acts of destruction."