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University of Calgary Debates Free Speech After Person of Color Paints Confederate Flag on Rock

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The University of Calgary is attempting to balance free speech and what it deems “hateful and offensive messages” after a minority student allegedly painted a Confederate flag on a rock on campus.

The Gauntlet, the University of Calgary’s student newspaper, reports the concern over the limits of free speech on campus came after a student painted a Confederate flag, along with the phrases, “Heritage not hate” and “Robert E. Lee did nothing wrong” on a rock on campus back on September. The rock on campus, known as the Rock, is supposed to be an open platform for students to express their opinions and over the years, has been painted with many different messages.

The rock was immediately painted over with phrases like, “Black Lives Matter” and “One campus, one love.” Clare Hickie, one of the students involved with painting over the rock, said the Confederate flag is “a pretty explicit discriminatory message.”

Soon after the rock was painted over, another group of students reportedly painted over that message, with one reading, “Trump” and mentioning that messages are supposed to be kept up on the Rock for 24 hours.

Police were dispatched to investigate the rock following complaints. The Gauntlet writes indigenous studies student Amy Willumsen called the police.

In response to the alleged messages of hate, the University of Calgary Students’ Union president Branden Cave told students to report messages they deem hateful to the campus police—even though the Rock is supposed to be a place for open expression:

The SU believes that universities must be a place of open yet respectful dialogue for us to learn and grow as a community. The Rock is public space and is not regulated by any group on campus. We strongly believe that the principles of inclusion and appreciation for diversity need to be extended to any use of the Rock as a public forum. We would encourage anyone who has concerns about anything they see on campus to contact Campus Security immediately.

The University of Calgary also issued its own statement telling students to contact police if they see anything hateful on campus while attempting to uphold free speech:

The Rocks have become a long-standing symbol of free expression at the University of Calgary. While there is no official ownership of the Rocks, we encourage individuals who may be concerned with messages painted on the rocks to contact Campus Security who will review any hateful or offensive messages and determine next steps. That said, messages painted on the Rocks are often self-policed by students and can be painted over without due process if there is a difference in opinion, as was the case today.

The University of Calgary is committed to fostering an environment of free inquiry, open debate and diversity of opinions. The university supports students or others sharing their views about subjects – including those that are controversial – in a safe and respectful manner.

Despite all of the outrage about offensive messages, it turns out the person behind the “hateful’ message on campus is actually a minority himself.

The Charlatan notes Andrew Moon, a student at the University of Calgary, told the Gauntlet that he was the person who painted the rock with the original Confederate flag message.

He told the Gauntlet, “There are many people of colour such as myself who do not have a problem with the flag and also choose to proudly display it. As I wrote, the flag represents southern culture and heritage, which is not exclusive to whites, and does not represent hate.”

“[Lee] opposed secession but he fought because he was a general and his loyalty was to his state,” he explained.

Lee said he came forward as the person behind the flag to “take the heat off” another student who was falsely accused of painting the flag.

Moon said, “I don’t want him to steal the credit away from me.”

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