University of Oregon to cover racist library murals

The Associated Press

'In the middle of campus, you see a colonist statue. How are you supposed to feel supported?'

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The University of Oregon will cover four murals in a library after years of outcry from students, staff, faculty and community members who felt the murals' language and portrayal of Indigenous people was racist. 

One mural in the Knight Library, titled the "Mission of a University," mentions conserving "our racial heritage." Two other murals illustrate humanity's development of the arts and the sciences, with dozens of people underneath the branches of growing trees. At the bottom of the tree in the "arts" mural, Indigenous people paint on cave walls and sew animal skins.

In both murals, only White people are at the top of the tree.

Provost Patrick Phillips said the library's decision to now cover the murals comes as nationwide protests against police brutality and systemic racism continue after the police killing of George Floyd, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.

After university students petitioned in 2017 to remove the "Mission of a University" mural, university officials hosted a series of discussions about art and cultural memory.

But students felt uncomfortable with the murals still being displayed.

Temerity Bauer, a co-director for UO's Native American Student Union, and others have met with Phillips to discuss the murals and their experiences as Indigenous students on campus.

"In the middle of campus, you see a colonist statue. How are you supposed to feel supported?" said Bauer, an enrolled member of the Round Valley Indian Tribes of Northern California and a junior studying biology.

The university's move comes amidst renewed public criticism across the nation against statues, building names, monuments and other historical artifacts that some say romanticize prejudiced historical figures. Other monuments on campus have been defaced or torn down.

"We tried the context thing, and it was clear that it was creating, still, this unwelcoming, unsupportive and — quite frankly — exclusionary symbol to students," Phillips said.

The University will pay $31,940 to cover the murals with a temporary print of the Minnesota Kasota limestone walls. Phillips said the university will hold off on a permanent replacement for now because the administration is focusing on reopening the university this fall amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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