On Wednesday night, a group of over 40 students congregated in the courtyard of the Theatre Building for an open forum regarding the courtyard’s newest installation: a mock border chainlink fence that had originally been slated to bisect Old Main Lawn during this week’s migration-focused International Roundtable. However, in a last-minute decision, Macalester’s administration opted to move the project to the space located between the Janet Wallace Fine Arts and Theatre Buildings.
The fence is the product of five months of work and preparation by Elsa Goossen ’15, who arranged the forum in order to answer questions regarding the administration’s decision to move the location of the mock border.
The project was initially proposed in March by Goossen while she was participating in a study-away program in Tucson, AZ that focused on border issues.
“I had heard about other college campuses that had done similar projects, either mock border walls or mock checkpoints,” Goossen said. “I thought this would be a really great opportunity to do something like that for the International Roundtable here at Macalester.”
Around May, the project had been approved by both the International Roundtable and the Macalester Administration. Goossen and a small planning committee, comprised of interested faculty and staff, worked on the project throughout the course of the summer, reaching out to student organizations, departments, faculty and classes in order to create a collaborative and heterogeneous work of art to display on the border-wall.
“The intention of this project was to create a space where people would have to think about these issues,” Goossen said. “[It would be] a piece that would promote conversations about borders and migration. So the whole point of the project was to be in a very visible place.
The project was moving ahead smoothly, with 12 groups contributing artwork to the fence and plans for installation under way. However, at a September 16 planning meeting, Goossen and the planning committee were informed that the Macalester administration no longer wanted the border wall to cross Old Main lawn.
“They cited concerns about students’ sensitivities,” Goossen said. “They thought that in light of recent events from this summer, such as the conflict in the Israel/Palestine region and the child migrants crossing into the U.S. from Mexico and issues in the Ukraine … they saw that as reason to be really concerned about students’ sensitivities to these issues.”
The administration requested that the display be moved to a site on campus that would not force students and visitors to constantly come into contact with the mock border. The planning committee submitted various proposals to the administration, suggesting alternative locations or additional signage that would allow the display to be more easily found, but ultimately the suggested compromises were turned down by the administration.
“We had the decision of either having it in this location or not having it at all,” Goossen said. “And since there were already people who were making projects for it, we decided to go ahead and have it. Although I think it’s lost a lot of its meaning in this space.”
The border is currently in what Goossen described an “invisible” section of campus and no longer bisects any space; it is instead placed against the wall on the western side of the courtyard.
“That’s been extremely frustrating,” Goossen said. “I think it’s really unfortunate for the integrity of the project.”
During the question and discussion section of the evening, the gathered students expressed their frustrations at what they saw as the administration’s attempts to silence the message of the project and, more broadly, student activism on campus. Suggestions ranging from a petition to more radical measures were proposed. Altogether, the general consensus was that the conversation regarding the project would be ongoing, with another meeting taking place on Thursday following the initial forum.
“The whole point is to make it visible on campus, so anything you can do to spread the word and get people over here – that’s awesome,” Goossen said.
“What I told my students today was ‘the voice of power actually comes from you all,’” said Hispanic and Latin American studies Professor Molly Olsen, who was also present at the forum. “Not from [faculty]. I don’t think that we have a lot of impact. But I think that you guys do.”
A document for creating an open letter to the administration has been created in the hopes that many students, faculty and staff will sign on with their opinions about the administration’s decision. Conversations about the project and the project’s relocation will be ongoing.
“I really appreciate everyone that came out tonight,” Goossen said while wrapping up. “This was a really amazing show of support, so thank you so much.”