A student at a small Southern California private college recently became offended by a mural of a gun with a flower coming out of the barrel, which was painted by a fellow student. The offended student talked of triggers, police brutality and people of color, but then another student schooled him in a history lesson and pointed out that what he saw in the mural was not exactly the artist’s representation of the piece.
Gregory Ochiagha, Student Senator at Pitzer College, sent out a campus-wide email Monday morning which expressed his disgust over the artwork.
Ochiagha’s email went something like this:
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. Now let’s imagine there were countless videos of white teenagers, white teenagers that look like you, or your brother 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 dinning [sic] hall.
The sophomore then added:
My Black Mental and Emotional Health Matters. 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 by [sic] black experience, I live in Atherton, come thru, let’s have that idiotic conversation.
Fellow freshman student Jessica Folsom then stepped in with a response that gave a little insight to the inspiration behind the painting.
Just to preface this, I am not trying to dismiss how you feel or belittle your experience as a student of color. This mural is 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. I thought it might be an important distinction to make between what the mural actually represents and perhaps the romanticized aesthetic of a gun which someone (maybe you?) could potentially mistake this for. I hope this helps.
Another student, Jennifer McNamara, pointed to the artist’s “freedom of speech within her design.” McNamara also noted that the design was previously approved by the aesthetics committee.
Of course, there were those who didn’t find the mural distasteful of offensive, but in the end, artist Selena Spier decided to modify the mural to have less of a triggering effect “in the interest of creating a safe and inclusive environment” for all students.
“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,” Spier concluded.