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Future of Free Expression Tunnel in question

North Carolina State University's Free Expression Tunnel has been controversial after negative graffiti appeared directed toward the late women's basketball coach Kay Yow and President Barack Obama.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — 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.

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.


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