Editors’ Note: This story has been updated to include a quote from an OU Spokeswoman
A temporary mural on Ohio University’s campus was found covered in graffiti Tuesday afternoon, including a depiction of a hanged figure, the URL “iraqbodycount.org/database” and the phrase “build the wall.”
The wall, which is at the intersection of Mulberry Street and Richland Avenue, is reserved for community graffiti.
It was painted over later in the afternoon with the exception of the hanged figure and “build the wall,” while the phrases "#isracismatOU?," "#blacklivesmatter" and “Racism will not be tolerated” were added.
“It was decided to keep the powerful images of the black body and 'build the wall' just to kinda spread awareness ... that there is a serious issue and it’s not something we can ignore,” OU Student Senate President Hannah Clouser said.
A local children’s group painted the original mural with an African safari theme near the end of July, Amanda Brooks assistant program manager for the group said. The program, Kids on Campus at OU offers recreational and educational opportunities to at-risk children in the community.
The program’s teen group, formed of sixth through 12th graders, painted the wall, and 50 students helped out in addition to community members.
Brooks was unaware the wall had been altered earlier this afternoon.
“That’s highly unfortunate and highly disappointing,” Brooks said. “(The kids) worked really, really hard on it and it’s super disappointing.”
OU Spokeswoman Carly Glick said it is the responsibility of an institution of higher to promote inquiry and learning.
"Paint may be able to cover offensive messages and reprehensible images, however, it will never conceal our underlying societal problems,” Glick said in an email. "It is our intent that the Graffiti Wall will continue to teach our university community that words and images are powerful.”
Winsome Chunnu-Brayda, the strategic director for diversity and inclusion and multicultural programs and initiatives at the Multicultural Center, said she was walking by the graffiti wall when she first noticed what was on the wall, and said she asked Student Senate to respond.
“I want a broad representation from the student body,” Chunnu-Brayda said. “As a demonstration and institution as the broader student group … this is not what we're about.”
During Spring Semester, Greek Life members painted the graffiti wall with the phrase “Build the Wall.” The wall was then repainted. Later that semester, some members of the OU College Republicans painted the wall to say, "Trigger warning: there are no safe spaces in real life! You can't wall off the 1st Amendment,” before it was again repainted.
OU College Republicans President David Parkhill said he is not aware whether anyone from his group was involved in the Tuesday incident.
“Obviously we’re pro-‘build the wall,’ but that’s horrible that someone would put (someone being hanged) up there,” he said.
Both Parkhill and Sam Miller, president of OU College Democrats, condemned the divisive nature of the message.
“I think it’s just people trying to drive us apart and trying to pit different types of people against each other when really what we need to do is come together and realize we’re all Americans and we’re all trying to make this country better no matter your race, no matter your ethnicity,” Parkhill said.
Miller said the graffiti wall has been used to create a divide on campus recently, when it should be there to promote unity between all groups.
“We understand this is a tense election and we’re trying to not create any hostility between the two groups,” Miller said.
The OU Police Department Chief Andrews Powers said the images could have a negative impact on the community.
“They understandably are hurtful, and can be frightening, but the problem is that because it's not specifically directed at a person, it makes it almost impossible for us to criminally prosecute,” Powers said.
Destini Cooper, a senior studying sociology-criminology and psychology, said she found out about the defaced graffiti wall when a friend sent her a picture on Snapchat.
“It really made me angry when going to class, like I couldn’t focus, that’s how mad I was,” Cooper said.
Madhu Pesala, a sophomore studying journalism, said she interpreted the graffiti as a reaction to the “Justice 4 Tyre King” graffiti students painted on university structures Monday morning. On a wall to the left of the altered African safari scene, someone had previously painted “black lives matter” and “Justice for Tyre King.” Pesala did not think that was a coincidence.
“There was a lot of explicitly and implicitly violent reaction to that graffiti,” Pesala said. “I think this could possibly be a reaction.”
Gabriela Godinez-Feregrino, vice president of the Hispanic and Latino Student Union, said anyone is invited to talk about the messages of the graffiti at the group’s general body meeting Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in the Multicultural Center.
— Dina Berliner, Bailey Gallion, Megan Henry, Kevin Pan and Candice Wilder contributed to this report.