The Cal Poly College Republicans thought erecting a “Free Speech Wall” next to Dexter Lawn would be a fitting way to celebrate the 26th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s falling. They probably didn’t count on students’ free speech including derogatory statements about Muslims and LGBTQ individuals, and they certainly didn’t plan for nearly 130 students to gather protesting the wall on Wednesday night.
The Free Speech Wall prominently featured a drawing of the Muslim prophet Muhammad carrying explosives and multiple rifles, with a caption reading “Islam is a political movement of violence and oppression.” Next to the drawing is a speech bubble saying, “Don’t draw me I’ll jihad your face! ALLAHU AKBAR.”
The wall also had a mock voting ballot with check-boxes for “Male” and “Female” and a caption reading, “Gender: Pick One.”
The wall was entirely separate from free speech controversies at Yale University and the University of Missouri, Cal Poly College Republicans member and horticulture and crop sciences sophomore Steven Spataford said.
Spataford spoke at the protest with a Bible in his hands. People of all religions have committed terroristic attacks, he said, but they do not represent their religious communities as a whole.
“As a student of Cal Poly, I’m disgusted (by) the things that people wrote about people of the faith of Islam (and) people that are transgender,” Spataford said. “Whether or not you agree with someone’s choice or the way that people live their lives, I believe it is not our place to tell them how to live their lives.”
Vice President for Student Affairs Keith Humphrey and Dean of Students Jean DeCosta were both in attendance for the 9 p.m. rally on Veterans’ Day.
“We have work to do. We need to be better,” Humphrey said. “We knew this as a community before (the wall) went up, (and) we know it now.”
Black Student Union (BSU) member and psychology junior Kristin Lee said she was hurt to see someone had written “All Lives Matter” on the Freedom of Speech Wall. The term has become a rebuke for the “Black Lives Matter” slogan born out of the riots in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014.
“The people who say (All Lives Matter) … are not supporting any of the Hispanics that gotta deal with (Donald) Trump’s bullshit,” Lee said. “They’re not supporting any of the black people that gotta deal with white privilege or anything or on campus. They’re not supporting anything, but they want to say ‘All Lives Matter.’”
Mechanical engineering senior and Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) Board of Directors member Nelson Lin agreed with Lee, saying student government doesn’t count campus diversity as a major concern.
“ASI doesn’t really care. Not in the sense that it’s malevolent, but more as an ignorance type of thing,” Lin said. “When somebody does bring it up, it doesn’t carry.”
Many of the protest’s organizers were from the Queer Student Union, but the event was officially hosted by a new campus group called Stand In Solidarity, which will meet Sunday at 3 p.m. at the Julian A. McPhee University Union (U.U.) Plaza to plan a response to the drawings.