Thursday, April 21, 2016

Anti-war Mural of Gun With Flowers Triggers Fears for 'Black Mental and Emotional Health'

A college-age student who also serves as a senator for his Pitzer College class wrote a scathing email to his fellow classmates that condemned a mural of a gun with flowers flowing from the end – a classic anti-war image made popular in the 1960s – and said it was hurtful to blacks especially.

This mural caused one college student to fear for the mental health of
"students of color." (Credit: Claremont Independent)
"It's truly in bad taste to have a large depiction of a gun in a dorm space – especially when students of color also reside there," said Gregory Ochiagha, in his email, reported Campus Reform. "Now let's imagine there were countless videos of white teenagers, white teenagers that look like you, or your broth or your sister, get shot to death by police officers. Imagine scrolling down Facebook everyday and seeing a new video of the same thing, over and over again. Really put yourself in that headspace. Then ask yourself whether it's the brightest idea to have white teenagers, who have a very real fear of getting shot, see a large gun every time they want to get food from the [dining] hall."

The mural was approved by the Pitzer College aesthetics committee, Campus Reform reported.

But Ochiagha said it was highly offensive.

"My Black Mental and Emotional Health Matters," he wrote. "I shouldn't be reminded every time I leave my dorm room of how easy my life can be taken away, or how many Black lives have been taken away because of police brutality. This is emotionally triggering for very obvious reasons. And if you want to belittle or invalidate [my] black experience, I live in Atherton, come thru, let's have that idiotic conversation."

A student, Jessica Folsom, responded by explaining the historical context of the mural, as "actually representative of a nonviolence movement to protest the Vietnam War in the 60s. There's a famous photo of a protester putting flowers in the barrel of a National Guardsman's rifle and everything."

Other students slammed Ochiagha's response to the mural, saying it was tantamount to a free speech infringement.

"I actually love the mural and thought it was obvious that it was about the flower power movement/a message of anti-violence," wrote Jennifer McNamara, Campus Reform found. "It was approved by the aesthetics committee and the artist has freedom of speech within her design."

And another, Alessandra Elliot, wrote: "I love our [college's] radical liberalism. However, I'm not in love with the trend of shutting down voices that don't align with liberal ideologies."

The artist, Selena Spier, said she was going to change her mural to accommodate dissenting views.

"I spoke with Gregory earlier and we agreed on a modification that preserves the integrity of the original piece while avoiding any potentially triggering content – it's a change I was absolutely happy to make in the interest of creating a safe and inclusive environment for everyone in my community," she said, in the Claremont Independent. "I have absolutely no right to decide whether or not my artwork is offensive to marginalized communities – nor does anyone else in a position of privilege, racial or otherwise."

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