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Campus groups react to decision to cover Columbus murals

and | Thursday, January 24, 2019

Campus organizations have let their voice be heard after University President Fr. John Jenkins announced his decision on Sunday to cover controversial murals depicting the life of Christopher Columbus in the Main Building.

The Native American Student Association of Notre Dame (NASA-ND) was quick to give its support. The group, which has in the past voiced opposition to the murals, thanked Jenkins in a Facebook post Sunday evening.

“The Native American Student Association of Notre Dame is thankful for Father Jenkins’ thoughtful and wise decision,” the statement said. “This is a good step towards acknowledging the full humanity of those Native people who have come before us. We sincerely hope that Father Jenkins and his administration will continue to prioritize Native issues on our campus in the coming weeks and months as there is still work to be done.”

Alan-Mychal Boyd, vice president of NASA-ND, said he saw the decision as a victory for all involved.

“It’s great,” he said. “It was really a compromise [for] both sides that would take an opinion on it. A really good step forward, I think, because in the past Notre Dame has not been the most welcoming to Natives.”

Moving forward, Boyd said he hopes the University remains receptive to NASA-ND and other Native American groups.

“I think this is a really great symbolic gesture, and I would like it to be more than that,” he said. “A symbolic gesture in the sense of a new era of cooperation with not just NASA-ND but with the Pokagon Band of Potawotomi area.”

Those concerned for the murals’ future are welcome to reach out to him, he added.

“I would be willing to have a conversation [to] see if we could come to an agreement,” he said.

The Notre Dame chapter of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), a conservative youth organization, also released a statement on the controversy Sunday night calling on Jenkins to overturn his decision.

YAF national chairman and Notre Dame law student Grant Strobl said the group sees the move as antithetical to the University’s role as an academic institution.

“Higher education was founded for the purpose to pursue knowledge and to pursue truth and when they stray away from that mission, YAF will hold them accountable,” he said. “In this situation, Notre Dame has decided to move away from its mission of really examining the painting and learning about Christopher Columbus and debating the idea behind it. Instead they’re hiding it behind curtains.”

In choosing to cover the murals, the University has also turned its back on its Catholic roots, he said.

“[Columbus] is the guy who basically introduced Catholicism to the Americas,” he said. “It seems kind of hilarious that they’re removing the very person who made Notre Dame possible … The icon of Catholic education backed down on its own values.”

YAF started a petition asking for the decision’s reversal Tuesday morning. In a group meeting that evening, sophomore and chapter chairman Luke Jones said it had already reached about 300 signatures.

Saint Mary’s junior and YAF member Catherine Viz appeared on Fox News’ “The Ingraham Angle” Tuesday evening to offer her thoughts on the controversy.

Viz caught the attention of the network after publishing an article about the murals Monday on Campus Reform, a conservative college news website.

On the show, Viz said she felt the decision would obscure students’ understanding of Columbus as a historical figure.

“As an important part of learning where we need to go in the future, we need to acknowledge the evil things that may have happened, no matter how unfortunate,” she said during the broadcast. “To have history, you need both sides — the good and the bad.”

While Viz believes the move was made with diversity and inclusion in mind, it would only serve to stifle progress in this area, she said.

“I don’t think that the solution is to literally cover something up,” she said. “For as many times as Fr. Jenkins speaks on having fruitful dialogue and having conversation that truly stimulates culture and diversity, this is blatantly something that is completely shutting that down.”

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About Mary Steurer

Mary is a Computer Science Engineering major pursuing a minor in Journalism, Ethics, and Democracy. If her journalism career doesn't work out, her Plan B is to start a petting zoo.

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