Since Nov. 21, the painted tunnel has transformed from a place to advertise your club’s upcoming performance into a platform for sociopolitical messaging.
The painted tunnel also shows us how — and how not — to engage in a dialogue.
The original paintings supporting democracy in Hong Kong, human rights for Uighurs, and autonomy for Tibet and Taiwan, were admirable in their commitment to bringing attention to very real issues affecting people. For that, they should be applauded.
While those original paintings received a heartening response from many, they also received some reasonable criticism. In particular, some argued that because much of the messages were written in Chinese, they seemed targeted at Chinese international students. This was a fair critique that we are glad was brought into the discussion.
Since that first round of paintings on Thursday morning, three major paintings were added.
The first demonstrates a potential for sustaining useful dialogue. The Chinese Students’ Association’s message painted their message that evening: “We are peace/ We are family/ We love you all.” Their statement, though vague, showed that non-suppressive responses were possible. The message itself is more benign than constructive, but there was room for dialogue.
Later that night, however, we were shown — organized somewhat by the Chinese Students and Scholars Association (which is not the same thing as CSA) — what a regressive, suppressive response looks like. When students began painting over the parts of the messages they didn’t support, they displayed that most reprehensible of free speech loopholes: using your own voice (or paint) to silence another. Not only do their actions silence members of our community, they also demonstrated an inability to engage with an opposing viewpoint. This doesn’t help anyone.
In the most recent painting on Sunday, a group of students again painted things over, again contributing messages of support for the oppressed. While we don’t support the tactic of painting over perspectives, it was the logical result of the paintings that came before it, and we cannot condemn those supporting oppressed people.
We go to a university, an institution for learning. To learn, we must challenge our perspectives by exploring those different than our own. To obscure an opposing view by painting over it rejects such exploration.
The paintings covering the original messages on Thursday were not contributions to a dialogue. They were an endorsement of ignorance.