Last week, a petition asking for the removal of a mural currently residing in Woodburn Hall surfaced on Change.org. The mural, painted by the late local artist Thomas Hart Benton, depicts several Ku Klux Klan members burning a cross.
The petition, created by Jaqueline Barrie, an IU graduate, calls for IU President Michael McRobbie to pull the panel from the classroom in Woodburn because the painting makes students uncomfortable. The Editorial Board agrees.
The responses to the petition have included arguments debating the censorship of art and the importance of not erasing history.
There is a time and place for the darker parts of history, but the wall of a classroom in a University that claims to “include all who comprise our diverse university community and foster a campus climate in which those diverse influences are respected and valued,” per Indiana University’s diversity statement, is not the place.
Those who say they wish to keep the mural intact, such as University historian James Capshew, claim the artwork does not glorify the Klan, but instead documents a dark time in Indiana’s history.
Dark times in history do not need to be depicted on the walls for us to constantly remember. We have books, documentaries, professors and other sources to educate us on the past of our society.
Making a student of color or a Jewish student sit under a mural depicting an ideology that threatens them isn’t educational – it is inconsiderate.
The University also owns several other Benton pieces, so the removal of one panel in the mural will not be a removal of the artist’s influence. Additionally, the mural is a large work of art, and removing a single panel won't destroy the entire piece.
Pieces of art like this are commentary on society and should not be destroyed. They should not, however, loom over students who may find it difficult to learn in their presence.
If someone really wants to study this piece, it should be available. But students and faculty who signed the petition and said they feel threatened or uncomfortable shouldn’t be unduly subjected to it.
Instead of highlighting the ideology of white supremacy and anti-Semitism in the learning environment, the University could replace the mural with a different piece of art.
There is no shortage of talented local artists who depict various times in Indiana’s history outside of a racist hate group.
IU and Indiana as a whole have years of incredible history. We have stories to share about locals, about academics, about our state growing and changing into the home we call it today.
We have paintings of Little 500, Herman B Wells, the Showalter Fountain and more. To defend a mural that diminishes all of that growth is counterproductive.
There is an inherent difference between studying history and glorifying something about Indiana’s past that disrespects the existence and personhood of many students that sit in that classroom and have to look at the painting.
For the safety and comfort of the many brilliant minds we have walking through those classroom doors, the panel should at least be moved to a less public location.
Pride of racism has no room in Indiana’s academic spaces.