Students protest slurs in N.C. State's Free Expression Tunnel

Posted November 4, 2010

— Students have vowed to protest or block North Carolina State University's Free Expression Tunnel until the university's chancellor gives guarantees that no hate speech will be allowed there.

About 40 students painted the tunnel black overnight to protest racist and homophobic graffiti involving President Barack Obama painted there Sunday night. Slurs and the name "Obama" were painted over the picture of a black man.

"It's not about the N-word. It's not about Obama. It's about racism, period," N.C. State sophomore Monique Bonds said.

The protesters also stood locked arm-in-arm, sang and prevented anyone from passing through the tunnel.

At one point, other students got into a heated exchange with protesters, saying they agreed with the point but not the method of the protest. University police officers escorted students around the tunnel.

"We'll be out here until we get an answer that we can guarantee that we don't have to walk through this tunnel and worry about what's written on the wall," Bonds said.

Chancellor Randy Woodson, who has decried the graffiti, and other university leaders spoke with a couple students who protested at the tunnel Thursday morning. Other students and staff were passing freely through it.

"We're going to try to give the students a voice," Woodson said. "We'll just try to make sure everyone's safe and try to make sure that they have an opportunity to voice their opinions."

Provost Warwick A. Arden met with two students and discussed diversity and how to get students talking honestly about racial issues.

The Free Expression Tunnel is "a reflection of our university, so we have to be more thoughtful and maybe encourage our students to be more thoughtful in messages that are left there," Woodson said.

N.C. State students are allowed to paint the Free Expression Tunnel with images and words commenting on any issue. The tunnel is also a major thoroughfare through campus. Students protest slurs in Free Expression Tunnel Students protest slurs in Free Expression Tunnel

Racist speech in the tunnel became an issue after graffiti threatening violence against Obama was spray painted the night he was elected in November 2008. The incident prompted the University of North Carolina System to adopt a policy prohibiting actions defined by federal and state laws as hate crimes.

A sign posted at the tunnel asks students to "refrain from offensive and hateful messages."

Student protesters said they want more action by university authorities to prevent hate speech.

"I want the Free Expression Tunnel to stay open for students to use to express themselves, but for this to happen again – I want really to feel now that something has to be done to stop these actions," said N.C. State junior Kelvin Carter, who organized the protest.

Carter said that students were holding forums to gather opinions on what actions could be taken.

"We have the thoughts of having more surveillance cameras and people thinking about just shutting down the Free Expression Tunnel completely," he said. "Some people want guidelines (that)  if you do write something (that's hate speech), then there’s a penalty to what you write."

Bonds said that graffiti demeaning many different groups is common in the tunnel.

"It's free expression, but nobody is walking through, regulating it," she said. "They're just letting it happen, and it's not just racism, but gender, sexuality and religious discrimination."

Woodson said that it would be impossible to guarantee that no offensive or hateful messages might be painted in the Free Expression Tunnel. Dialogue, not policy changes, are key to preventing offensive speech, he said.

"All we can do is create an environment, create a climate where this is brought to the light of day and discussed," he said. "But can we stop it? No. And would the law allow us to stop it? No. But does it reflect what we stand for? Absolutely not."

N.C. State sophomore Shaneice Mitchell agreed that students need to take responsibility for the messages left in the tunnel.

"We're scholars, so we need to know – and we should know – how to act when it comes to expressing our views," Mitchell said.


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  • wewoods Nov 11, 2010

    Rise Above...

    The people painting this stuff are getting exactly what they want, a reaction. Made you mad huh?

    just let it go.....

    Also, this was not a legal protest. You blocked your own classmates path to class? And you expect respect from this? You just lost respect from me. Protest's (legal one's) cannot impede someones path for more than a few seconds... Campus police sure dropped the ball there...

  • issymayake Nov 5, 2010

    Coach K,

    I doubt most would even care that much. To diminish the historical context under which most of these institutions were founded is revisionist history. Absolutely nothing is stopping you all from creating these institutions for a new century. So do it; after all you have freedom of speech as guaranteed by the constitution.

    Go ahead, and send me a copy of the charter/constitution when you get it started.

  • Coach K is still GREAT Nov 5, 2010

    "we have black colleges"

    Yes, but these black colleges aren't exclusive to blacks. You, I, or anyone else of any race can apply to and attend these colleges. In some cases, you may even qualify for a minority scholarship.

    "we have black pagents"

    Yes, and we have Latina pageants too. We even have drag queen pageants. What's your point? Do you have a need or desire to compete in a black pageant?

    "we can have all black parades...but no all white ones"

    There's parades for all kinds of ethnic groups, not just blacks. And you are allowed to attend and view each and every one of them. You bringing up these non-issues brings absolutely NOTHING to the discussion at hand.
    November 4, 2010 3:46 p.m.
    Ignore Report abuse

    I think his/her point is if these were labled WHITE Pagaents, WHITE parades, etc, etc, etc, then is would be considered RACIST! GET IT???!!!

  • driverkid3 Nov 5, 2010

    I don't like a lot of things that are said, BUT people have the right to speak their mind. I would rather have someone spit in my face than use that "N word" around me, but people do it every day.

  • shisterfinder Nov 5, 2010


  • deton8tor Nov 5, 2010

    The End......

  • serious Nov 5, 2010

    well put toomuchpork

  • WhitePony Nov 5, 2010

    The fact that something truly offensive was painted there is proof that it's truly a "free expression" tunnel. The fact that it created public discussion and community involvement is proof that it serves its purpose.

  • 2MuchPork4Just1Fork Nov 5, 2010

    "So Africans didn't sell their own people as slaves?"

    No, actually, Africans did not sell "their own people" as slaves. Certain tribes in Africa sold members of *other* tribes as slaves. Unfortunately for everyone, some (ignorant) folks continue to persist in confusing all black Africans as "the same people". Try telling that to the Misseriya and the Rezeigat Nouaiba in Darfur. Good luck with that.

    Don't believe the hype, people. The business about Africans "selling their own people" is erroneous, racist propaganda to try to excuse the slave trade.

    That said, I believe in free speech. The only way to battle the hate speech is to paint over it with pictures of rainbows & kittens.

  • deton8tor Nov 5, 2010

    I'm only commenting because I just like having the last word. BTW their blocking the tunnel is only hurting their fellow students who are trying to get to class. not whoever it was that wrote the remarks. All they are doing is making enemies of people who might have otherwise been sympathetic to their cause. Protest fine, blocking a the path of fellow students...serves no usefull purpose and has nothing to do with the issue.