The architecture of the University of Notre Dame has a beautiful historic nature. However, some students and professors have decided certain art pieces are inappropriate, even racist. Current and alumni students have proposed a petition to have twelve murals of Christopher Columbus removed from the main entrance hall of the building on the Indiana campus. Though they are historic pieces which have been a part of the school since 1884, the once adorned art exhibit is now under attack. Some staff members are also protesting the paintings, totaling over 600 signatures.
In the letter, the protesters explain to university president, John Jenkins that the murals send the wrong message “in this era of political divisiveness” because they have recently been determined racist and disrespectful to Native Americans and African Americans. The letter explains that the location of the art pieces aggravate the situation further, as they are one of the first things that visitors and prospective students see when arriving on campus.
Native American students represented most of the signatures from opposing students. Their claim against the Columbus paintings is that they promote a “highly problematic vision of Western triumphalism, Catholic militarism and an overly romantic notion of American expansion.”
Most offensively though, Chris Columbus was notably a slave owner and trader. He reportedly had both Native American and African American slaves, as many people of the time unfortunately did. However protesting students and professors are also failing to recognize that many respected historical figures were also slave owners, especially among the Founding Fathers, such as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson, who generally are not as quick to be regarded as racists as Columbus is.
The murals promote racism to some, “because they depict Native Americans and blacks in stereotypical submissive poses before white European explorers.” However, they do not glorify slave ownership nor genocide, though they do present illustrations of historical facts. While slavery is not acceptable today, it is ignorant for a higher learning institution to deny its presence in history for being politically incorrect. Addressing mistakes in history is the most proactive way to prevent similar ones in the future.
If the artworks are that bothersome to students, they should not have chosen to attend the school. The murals are in an obvious location, so their presence is widely known. Those against the murals say that because the paintings are very visible, they seem to answer the question “Who is Notre Dame?” Those with this thought seem to be identifying with the painting on their own, though the pieces are just works of art for historical and aesthetic enjoyment.
The Luigi Gregori paintings do, however, carry historical significance to the school. They depict the struggle between Catholics and Native Americans during America’s founding. As a Catholic himself, Columbus fought for their rights as immigrants, which when compared to the current situation in America, is very inclusive and politically correct.
A pamphlet published previously by the school explaining the pieces expresses empathy for any slaves depicted during this time and further adds that the way these slave owners treated them was “conflicted with the vision of the dignity of the human person championed by the Catholic Church.” The school’s brochure further encourages the viewer to consider how changing times has influenced the way Americans view civil rights then and now.
Even more hypocritical of those protesting the murals, is that the university mascot is the “Fighting Irish,” which still celebrates Irish and Catholic traditions from the university’s founding. The murals’ protestors are against the offensive “themes” in the artwork, one being Catholicism, which is one of the very founding values of the school these students and staff chose to attend or teach at.
Furthermore, the murals were created for the school to celebrate Catholic heritage and “inspire, uplift, and educate.” They are a symbol of hope and new beginnings as they were painted right after a fire devastated the school in 1879. However, celebrating patriotism, acknowledging history, and having pride for one’s school may now be considered “dangerous nationalism,” according to today’s leftist agenda.
This is not the first attempt at students coming together to have the art taken down. Students began getting offended by the murals in the 1990s, again in 1995, and for a third time in 2017. Those in opposition are demanding more noticeable acknowledgment of the controversial piece than just informational brochures.
On behalf of campus officials, spokesman Dennis Brown reported that they will not be taking down the murals, despite pressure from students. The murals cannot be moved, because “to try to remove them would to in all likelihood destroy them.” As a compromise, however, the university will put up permanent signs explaining the significance of the works. Anyone offended can try to keep an open mind about the art, or opt to stay off university grounds entirely.