A new petition is calling for the removal of a mural from a building on Indiana University’s Bloomington campus that depicts a scene of the Ku Klux Klan.
The petition says the mural, located in a classroom in Woodburn Hall, violates the rights of students and faculty of color by forcing them “to work and study in an environment that promotes a group known for discriminating against people of color … and other marginalized groups of people.”
The mural panel depicts several KKK members and a burning cross as part of a greater scene representing Indiana’s history in the 1920s.
The piece has been the subject of controversy since its creation by artist Thomas Hart Benton in 1933.
Curator at the Eskenazi Museum of Art Nan Brewer says Indiana legislators fought to keep the scene out of the mural. But Brewer says Benton’s argument for its inclusion is still relevant today.
“Benton was able to convince them that it was important to show both the positive and negative aspects of your history, or nobody would believe any of it, that you really had to be honest,” Brewer says.
As of Aug. 30, the petition has more than 1,000 signatures. It will be delivered to the IU Board of Trustees.
Indiana University spokesperson Ryan Piurek said in a statement university leadership has not changed its position on the murals.
“Through much discussion, analysis and reflection over many years, Indiana University has consistently concluded that education is the best response to concerns over the Benton Murals,” he said. “We believe that students gain the most if they are well informed about the murals, which serve as a reminder and testimonial to an unsavory and criminal portion of Indiana’s history. Their presence helps insure history will be not repeated.”
Piurek says school officials recognize the murals may make some students uncomfortable, especially in light of the recent events in Charlottesville, VA.
“The university will continue to provide personal support and other resources, through its Division of Student Affairs and Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs, for any students or staff members who are experiencing an issue that impacts their ability to succeed or feel at home at IU,” the statement said.
In a video recorded in April 2012, Brewer discusses the mural and its controversy: