Marquette University's decision to paint over mural of convicted cop killer draws protests

The mural came down last month amid a firestorm, but dozens of faculty members are not pleased.

The mural came down last month amid a firestorm, but dozens of faculty members are not pleased.

More than 60 faculty and staff members at Marquette University are circulating an online petition against their own school for taking down a mural featuring convicted cop killer and the FBI’s first female most wanted terrorist, Joanne Deborah Chesimard, also known as Assata Shakur.

Shakur was part of a revolutionary extremist organization called the “Black Liberation Army.” In 1973, she shot and killed a New Jersey State Trooper at point-blank range, according to the FBI. Then she escaped from prison in 1979 and fled to Cuba, where she is still believed to be living.

The mural showed Shakur’s face with two quotes on a wall inside the Catholic institution’s “Gender and Sexuality Resource Center,” which provides “a safe and welcoming space dedicated to dialogue, growth, and empowerment around gender, sex, and sexuality,” as noted on its Facebook page.

Some faculty members are also upset because Susannah Barlow, the GSRC’s director at the time the painting went up, no longer works for the school. The university’s communications director would not specify if she was fired or resigned. 

There is a petition circulating online saying Bartlow’s “relief from her position at this university greatly hinders the Marquette student body and the institution as a whole.”

The mural was originally painted, at least in part, by Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority members and went up in March. One of the quotes read, “No one is going to give you the education you need to overthrow them. Nobody is going to teach you your true history, teach you your true heroes if they know that that knowledge with help set you free.”

Leona Dotson, international communications chairperson of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., confirmed in a statement the group did contribute to painting the mural, along with other university staff and students. “Unfortunately, Ms. Shakur’s entire history and background was not fully researched. If that process had occurred, she would not have been featured in the mural,” Dotson said.

When the university discovered there was a convicted cop-killer on the wall, they painted over it in May. A statement by the university said, “this is extremely disappointing as the mural does not reflect the Guiding Values of Marquette University.”

Stephen Franzoi, Professor Emeritus at Marquette’s Psychology Department, authored the petition and wrote the latest events “demand a response,” saying the university adopted “the narrative of pure vilification” by erasing the image.

“Did the administration consider the chilling impact of the erasure of the image within the context of present conversations about police brutality and black life?” the petition reads. “Were the students consulted? Were they offered an opportunity to engage?”

Franzoi told he was not available for comment.

The university responded to the petition in a statement published online: “We cannot in good conscience, as a Catholic, Jesuit institution, allow for a convicted murderer and fugitive to be held up as a model for our students…The administration welcomes discussion on campus about controversial issues. The discussion about the mural should have taken place before it was created, not afterwards.”

John McAdams, associate professor of political science at Marquette University, told the staff members who signed the petition are “pushing Marquette to be less and less a Catholic university, or more a citadel of secular political correctness.”

The university is now working with its advisory board to hire a new director in the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center to “build off of the current programs and continue this important work. It is essential to have a place where students can have a safe environment to explore the issues of gender and sexuality,” according to the school’s statement.


Kyle Rothenberg is a graduate of the Junior Reporter program at Fox News. Follow him on Twitter: @kylerothenberg