U of C rocks become a canvas for freedom of speech

Early on the morning of Sept. 25, students at the University of Calgary were greeted with a freshly painted Confederate Flag and the words “Heritage Not Hate” on The Rocks, as they are known on campus.

The Rocks sit outside of MacEwan Student Centre and serve as a promotional canvas for upcoming student events or for students to express their opinions on current events.

Kimberly Rude, a sociology student at the U of C, did not see that message on The Rocks herself, but doesn’t believe it has a place on a Canadian university campus.

“The Confederate flag represents a long time of oppression,” said Rude.

“Given everything that’s going on in the United States right now, I think it shows that hatred is still embedded in today’s society,” she said.

The Rocks were repeatedly repainted after students saw the message, with revolving messages that both opposed the original message, or supported it.

Successive messages included “Canada loves all people” with a heart, “Trump” with a heart around it, and “Black Lives Matter.”

Ex-Canadian Forces member Scott Muirhead said that the Confederate flag in itself may not be hateful, but it’s relevancy has come and gone.

“When I see it defended as ‘heritage,’ it should be clear that this is the most shameful part of American history,” said Muirhead.

“I don’t believe the “Stars and Bars” have any place in Canada outside of a museum, where context can be explained,” he said.

There are no rule governing what can be painted on The Rocks. However, campus security may be alerted if any student feels directly threatened.

In a statement reported by CBC News, the university said it is committed to letting students freely speak their minds, as long as violent measures are not taken.

“The university supports students and others sharing their views about subjects, including those that are controversial, in a safe and respectful manner,” said the e-mailed statement.

Kiana Wu, a native Calgarian who now resides in New York City who is now attending post-secondary, believes people should be “more amazed” at the efforts by students to cover the potentially hateful messages.

“What an incredible thing,” said Wu, “to cover messages over and over to reflect whoever walks by.

“I do not support the Confederate flag or the current U.S. Presidency whatsoever. So long as it doesn’t lead anyone to act violently, this is a public canvas and should be free to whoever, whatever that brings.”

The dueling paint jobs came just short of a year into Donald Trump’s presidency and just over a year after a similar incident at Mount Royal University (MRU).

What an incredible thing, to cover messages over and over to reflect whoever walks by. – Kiana Wu

A young woman, identified as Zoe Slusar, was caught on video asking another student, Matt Linder, to remove his “Make America Great Again” hat.

Slusar stated it fostered a hateful and unsafe school environment.

While MRU didn’t have much comment, the school also emphasized its support for freedom of expression.

About Sarah Mang 1 Article
As a writing and communications major in the journalism program at SAIT, Sarah Mang worked as a reporter for The Press during the 2017-18 academic year.