Update: 4:41 PM ; 10/10/14
Provost Kathy Murray announced this afternoon that the administration will not attempt to relocate the mock border wall from Old Main Lawn, after a group of students relocated it from the courtyard behind Janet Wallace earlier this morning.
Students have maintained a physical presence at the wall all day, distributing flyers and explaining the meaning behind the installation to passersby. A steady stream of individuals—many of them family members in town for Family Fest, which begins today—have been exploring the wall and its art installations throughout the day.
Murray released a statement on the wall’s relocation justifying the College’s decision to initially not allow the wall’s installation on Old Main Lawn and criticizing those that relocated the wall this morning.
“I did not want to shut down the project, but I believed it was important for people to be allowed to choose if and how they would encounter it,” Murray said. “A group of students decided early this morning that allowing other members of the community the opportunity to make that choice was not important and moved the wall to the center of campus.”
The wall will remain on Old Main Lawn until the conclusion of the International Roundtable, which ends Saturday. According to Murray, this will “eliminate further disruption” on campus.
Early Friday morning, a group of approximately 20 students moved the mock border fence, which had been located in the courtyard behind the Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center, back to its planned location across Old Main Lawn.
A collective of students involved in the project first held a forum Wednesday night at the site of the wall. They discussed potential responses to the wall’s mandatory relocation to what organizers described as a more isolated area of campus. After students demonstrated enthusiasm for more direct action, they initiated a second forum, held Thursday night, which strove for consensus in how exactly to return the wall to its original location.
Forum participants ran through the administration’s stated concerns with the wall’s original, more public location and discussed ways to mitigate those issues, which included potential triggers for individuals impacted by borders and families’ anticipated interactions with the installation over Family Fest weekend.
Around 5 a.m. Friday, students gathered at the site of the wall and began carrying the fence to Old Main Lawn. They picked up the wall in two pieces and soon after had reinstalled it across the lawn. Security officers appeared quickly and took the names of students involved in the demonstration, which they anticipated at the forum Thursday night. A few students had even discussed potential implications of moving the wall with security guards at the forum.
Students involved in the wall’s relocation said they aimed to restore the project to its original intent. They stressed that it was not meant to antagonize school administrators or be radical, but rather to assert the centrality of the wall and its messages.
“We’re working to uphold the original vision of the art and the artists that completed this piece,” a participant said. “This isn’t an act against the administration. The goal was to make this a visible piece of artwork.”
Students will maintain a physical presence at the wall throughout the day, swapping off after two-hour shifts. At approximately 7 a.m., roughly 15 students were positioned in front of the wall, swaddled in blankets and sleeping bags to stay warm. Throughout the day, they hope to actively discuss the intentions of the wall with people who choose to approach it.
“Our intention is to try as much as possible to engage with people walking by … to explain the vision of the art piece,” the participant said. “We don’t have to talk about why we moved it, just explain [that] this art piece is here.”
The students also intentionally decided to not block any sidewalk or campus path, so that those who might be affected negatively by the wall are not forced to directly confront it.
Some faculty members supported the students’ efforts throughout the week, but according to participants, none were directly involved in the moving of the wall as they figured any response to administrators would be more powerful if it were student-oriented.
As for concerns about Family Fest, many participants pointed to parents who were activists in their youth or who continue to engage in social justice work today—some gathered by the wall expect visiting family members to stand in solidarity with them later on in the day. Students also felt strongly that this type of activism is to be expected on any college campus, especially one such as Macalester that defines itself as liberal and civically engaged, and therefore should not be regarded as abnormal or radical.
In addition, participants said the installation could provide opportunities to peacefully educate family members on important issues of migration and borders.
The project, originally proposed by Elsa Goossen ’15, features art installations from student organizations and academic departments related to the theme of migration and crossing borders. This year’s International Roundtable, which is currently underway, is centered around migration.
Goossen said her inspiration for the fence stemmed from her study away program in border studies, and she had received initial approval for the fence to be installed on Old Main Lawn last May. Over the past few months, Goossen worked with individuals and various areas of campus to compile art for the installation before being notified a few weeks ago that the fence would not be allowed on Old Main Lawn.
Students involved with the relocation urged others to wear white today, to raise awareness of the project and call for peace.