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Future of Free Expression Tunnel in question

Posted February 2, 2009
Updated March 9, 2009

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— North Carolina State University's Free Expression Tunnel has been caught in more than one recent controversy in recent months, causing some to weigh its continued benefit.

N.C. State considers value of Free Expression Tunnel N.C. State considers value of Free Expression Tunnel

Monday, a mural painted in North Carolina State University's Free Expression Tunnel to honor Kay Yow had been restored after being defaced.

After the N.C. State men's basketball team's home game Saturday against rival University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, someone spray painted the phrase, "cancer rules" on the mural and a mustache on her picture in it.

Jay Dawkins, N.C. State student body president, said the comments were painted in light blue and made reference to the rivalry between N.C. State and UNC.

“What was said here was certainly hurtful and painful and goes beyond any type of rivalry these two campuses might have,” Dawkins said.

Yow died Jan. 24 after a long struggle with breast cancer.

“The fact that someone defaced the picture of someone that has had such a big impact here at N.C. State is really depressing to me actually,” student Eliza Jones said.

The graffiti was removed and the mural restored by early Sunday.

Threatening graffiti directed toward then President-elect Barack Obama was found in the tunnel on Nov. 5.

Two of the spray-painted messages said: "Let's shoot that (N-word) in the head" and "Hang Obama by a noose."

The Obama incident prompted the University of North Carolina system to revisit student codes of conduct as related to hate crimes.

N.C. State Chancellor James Oblinger also formed a cultural task force to talk about the tunnel.

“We've looked at that question (and) we've looked at whether or not we should keep the tunnel in place,” said Tom Stafford, vice-chancellor at N.C. State.

The committee is inclined to say yes.

“If you shut the tunnel down, the people who feel this way will still have those feelings and thoughts inside," Stafford said.

"On the other hand, if we keep the tunnel open, that gives us the opportunity to speak back with what we think is a lot more important."

The N.C. State University Student Senate passed the Free Expression Tunnel Response Act after the Obama incident.

The bill would require that hate crime offenders be punished to the full extent of university policies and undergo education about the value of diversity. It also urges the university to modify its Unlawful Harassment Policy to address actions or words that "incite violence or otherwise create a hostile campus environment toward individuals or university-protected groups."

The four students responsible for the Obama racist graffiti were not charged with a crime, and the university has not released their names.

No one has claimed responsibility yet for the Yow graffiti, and it was unclear if campus police will investigate.

This cultural task force plans to have a final report about the tunnel  at end of the month.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • danaybanks2 Feb 3, 2009

    If the Tunnel is on the school property, they have right to close it down. If anything else is written in the tunnel after it is "closed" then that student(s) could be charged with vandalism. I just find it amazing that all of this intolerance is coming from a UNVERSITY! When I went to college, we were taught to open our minds to other people,places and things. It was a place where "the man" didn't control your every thought process and you weren't preprogrammed to think or feel one way or another. It was a place where racism was totally frowned upon because that was something that little ignorant people did and tolerated and the last thing a college student wants to be seen as is ignorant or intolerant. I just don't get it!

  • fkhaywood Feb 3, 2009

    Closing this tunnel would be ridiculous; like amputaing your foot because of an ingrown toenail. The majority of parking at NCSU for faculty & students is on the other side of the RR tracks. I was a student there from 1965-1970 and it was not called a 'free expression tunnel', it was merely a tunnel where graffiti would appear now & then. There wasn't problem then; now that they officially sanction the graffiti there is a problem. Closing the tunnel should never be considered, take a count & see how many people use the tunnel each day. Remember that a RR splits the dorm side of campus from the classroom side!

  • webberx101 Feb 3, 2009

    Free speech means FREE SPEECH - CENSORING = TERRORISM !!!

  • Conservative Feb 3, 2009

    How is it a "Free Speech Tunnel" if folks seek to ban certain kinds of speech? Personally, I think that the recent graffiti concerning Coach Yow was reprehensible. If I was a student there, I would have exercised my righ tto free expression by erasing it and restoring it to its original form (to the best of my ability). Just because someone doesn't like what is expressed, it is not a good enough reason to ban free speech. Instead of complaining about what the miscreant had done, a very useful reaction could have been for a bunch of people to get together and clean it up (which is also a free expression)! We cannot ban things because it hurts a few sentiments. Otherwise, there is no point in living in a free society!

  • computer trainer Feb 3, 2009

    Sorry, but why should you take something away because of two instances? That is like punishing an entire class because the class clown cannot behave himself. Not fair at all. How long has the tunnel been here?

  • Oh Snap. Feb 2, 2009

    Free Expression + unsupervised youths + spray paint = trouble....but it's still Free Expression right? Shut the whole stupid thing down...it's silly anyway.

  • Lone Voice in the Wilderness Feb 2, 2009

    The best solution to a free speech problem is more free speech.

    While people need to learn that speech can and does have consequences, that should not be a reason to shut down the freedom of expression wall.

    It is the offensive speech that needs the most protection.