Students protest graffiti in Free Expression Tunnel

Free Expression Tunnel at NC State

November 4, 2010 9:39:08 AM PDT
Students on NC State's campus are debating whether graffiti considered offensive by some is free expression of racism.

Earlier this week, someone painted a racist and homophobic drawing of President Obama in the tunnel that was built in 1939 to allow people to express their First Amendment rights.

Overnight, students protested the most recent incident by painting over the graffiti with black paint. The protestors left their own message that reads, "Laundry is the only thing that should be separated by color."

The Free Expression Tunnel is one of the main corridors on campus and is used by thousands of students daily.

"It is called the Freedom of Expression Tunnel, but it comes to a point where freedom of expression is hurting other students," NC State freshman Richard Sosa told ABC11 Eyewitness News.

Campus police say the protest was peaceful and more security was expected near the tunnel Thursday morning as foot traffic picked up.

The students planned to block the tunnel on both ends as part of their protest. They were prepared to keep their positions until the chancellor responded. And he did -- with a surprise visit.

Chancellor Randy Woodson told the students that changes had been made to the student code of conduct in 2009 following the 2008 graffiti. Perpetrators would be "held accountable for expressing hateful messages to others that are intimidating or harassing, and the Free Expression Tunnel would be included in that."

Woodson issued a statement to the university earlier this week that is posted on the school's website.

"The Free Expression Tunnel is us," Woodson said in his statement. "What we say and do there says as much about us as the clothes we wear, the ethics we live our lives by and the politics we practice. The question for us all is are we going to practice the politics of hate and destruction, or are we going to be a force for respectful dialogue even where there are differences of opinion?"

Click here to read the entire statement.

There are no cameras inside the tunnel, so the school does not know who is responsible. However, the Chancellor says if the person or persons had been identified, they would have been held accountable.

Senior Lauren Gayden was one of the students who spoke to Woodson Thursday. She told him the school needs to do more to get his message out to students so there can be change.

"So we can, you know, get the issues on the table and come up with activities and ideas so something like this won't happen again." Gayden add that, "If it does [happen again], the university and community as a whole can have a correct response to it."

Following their meeting with Woodson, protestors allowed students to use the tunnel, but some students felt the incident was blown out of proportion.

"It might just be a stupid action by a stupid person, but it is a bit of an extreme reaction," freshman Andres Caceres said. "The person who wrote this -- he might just feel more accomplished because he's getting all this attention.

ABC11 Eyewitness News wants to know what you think. Should people be allowed to write whatever they want on the Freedom of Expression Tunnel? Click here to voice your opinion of our Facebook page.

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