A Republican college student group’s message of support for GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump’s push to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border has sparked a controversy.
The University of Minnesota College Republicans painted the message, “Build the Wall,” on a campus bridge last week, as part of a tradition among student organizations in which they paint signs and messages every fall.
The group’s message, however, was covered by another organization’s urging, “Stop White Supremacy,” according to the local CBS station, WCCO-TV.
Students who protested the College Republicans' message say it was xenophobic and consider it hate speech.
Minnesota College Republicans chair, Amanda Peterson, said Tuesday that it’s just the latest instance of conservative students being targeted because of their support of Trump. She says the group plans to repaint the mural.
The group issued a statement, reading in part, “We find it highly disturbing that someone would vandalize a simple statement such as ‘build the wall.’"
The statement went on, “We have received comments on the painting, falsely accusing us of being racist, xenophobic, and anti-immigrant. Our party’s nominee supports building a wall on the Mexican border to stop the flow of illegal immigrants into this country. We understand that some students may disagree with this policy position. However, free speech is at the center of a functioning democracy, and the actions taken against our panels run contrary to free speech."
University president Eric Kaler said that while the message may have been offensive, it should not have been vandalized.
“People in our community may disagree with the sentiment expressed," Kaler said. "However, while the University values free speech, the subsequent vandalism of the panel is not the way to advance a conversation."
“There’s freedom of speech, but then there’s hate speech. It’s one thing to be conservative, and it’s another thing to be saying these things that are clearly xenophobic and targeting specific groups of people,” Guillermo Perez, a member of Sigma Lambda Beta, a Latino-based multicultural fraternity, told CBS.
“I was really angry – angry because it’s an attack to my people, because I am Mexican,” Perez said.
Sigma Lambda Beta used its portion of the bridge wall – which is next to the GOP student group’s section – to feature the message, “Building bridges not walls.”
“We’re trying to seek, at the very least, an apology and recognition that what they did was wrong,” Perez said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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