A war of paint played out on the Rock outside near MacKimmie Tower on Monday after students returning from the weekend were greeted with a confederate flag on the campus staple. In addition to the flag, the Rock was covered with messages saying that confederate general Robert E. Lee “did nothing wrong” and the phrase “heritage not hate.”
In response to the messages, a group of students including sixth-year psychology student Clare Hickie repainted the rock with messages like “black lives matter” and “one campus, one love.”
“I think the confederate flag is a pretty explicit discriminatory message,” Hickie said. “We need to let people know that that’s not okay and there are people who don’t think that way.”
Shortly afterwards, the Rock was again painted with the word “Trump” inside a drawing of a heart and messages saying “John A. [Macdonald] is bae,” and “wait 24 hrs, plz.” It is an unwritten rule within the U of C campus that anything painted on the Rock should not be painted over for at least after 24 hours.
In photos obtained by the Gauntlet, fifth-year U of C science student Keean Bexte was identified as one of the people painting these messages over the ones covering the confederate flag. A photo posted to the /r/UCalgary subreddit in November 2016 also showed Bexte and two other students holding spray paint next to the Rock, which reads “Hilary 4 Prison.”
Bexte could not immediately be reached for comment.
After the second set of paintings on the Rock, students, including second-year indigenous studies student Amy Willumsen called Campus Security. The students said Campus Security arrived after Bexte left the Rock. Campus Security could not be reached for comment.
The Students’ Union released a written statement.
“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,” SU president Branden Cave wrote.
The U of C also released an email statement.
“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,” read the statement. “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.”
Students are allowed to paint messages on the Rock, which has been a campus fixture since 1968. Neither the U of C nor the SU regulate the Rock and there are no formal rules surrounding the Rock’s usage.
Early in September, images celebrating the Calgary Pride on the Rock parade were vandalized with anti-LGBTQ messages and imagery, which was then painted over by the members of the U of C orientation team.
Hickie believes action needs to be taken to address hateful messages painted on the Rock.
“Painting over the Rock is not a solution, it’s a bandaid fix,” Hickie said. “There has to be some kind of concrete action to address this issue.”
A third-year political science student has approached the Gauntlet to claim responsibility for painting the confederate flag on the Rock. Andrew Moon says he is proud to display the flag.
“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,” Moon said in an email. “[Lee] opposed secession but he fought because he was a general and his loyalty was to his state.”
Moon attached a picture of himself with a stencil that he says he used to paint the flag’s stars on the Rock.
Moon said he went forward because he wanted to “take the heat” off of Bexte.
“I don’t want him to steal the credit away from me,” Moon said in his email.