Last Thursday, the men of Kappa Alpha fraternity at Tulane University decided to play a practical joke. Every year, they make new pledges build a wall out of sandbags. This time, they spray painted “Trump” and “Make America Great Again” on the wall. In response, vandals tore down the wall, despite it being on private property, and the university administration is listening to the groups who claimed offense, rather than the fraternity which was vandalized.
The university has not condemned the attack on private property, but a very serious petition against the wall has garnered nearly 800 signatures, with people “standing in solidarity” with the vandals.
In a statement on Tuesday to the local paper, The Times-Picayune, Kappa Alpha fraternity explained that the wall’s message was a practical joke. “The comment was written on a makeshift wall on our private property, normally used for a game of capture the flag, to mock the ideologies of a political candidate,” said Jesse Lyons, the national fraternity’s assistant executive director for advancement. “This had a [sic] unintended negative effect and as such it has been dismantled.”
Lyons insisted that “our chapter takes KA’s values of gentlemanly conduct very seriously,” adding that “this respect extends to every student of Tulane and every member of the broader community.” The wall was not intended to alienate anyone, but merely as a practical joke.
Nevertheless, the university responded on Wednesday by prioritizing emotions over the free expression of ideas. The administration gave lip-service to free speech, saying the university “encourages and supports the free exchange of ideas and opinions,” but then it eviscerated the content of that speech by noting that the wall “sparked a visceral reaction in the context of a very heated and divisive political season.”
Furthermore, Dusty Porter, the university’s vice president of student affairs, said Tulane’s Multicultural Affairs Office is working with “various multicultural groups and students who feel impacted” by the practical joke, and that the university’s Greek life department is working with KA fraternity to address it. From the sound of things, the university is not addressing the violation of the university’s private property rights.
Vandals started dismantling the wall on Tuesday, as documented in a YouTube video. In the video, a fraternity member asks them to stop, promising that the group will take down the wall on its own. The men continue to grab the sandbags and toss them into the road, laughing as they do it. To no avail, the fraternity member says, “This is private property, all right?”
The change.org petition in support of these vandals has garnered 788 signatures as of Thursday, and is nearing its goal of 1,000. If it reaches that goal, the letter will be sent to the university’s administration.
“The labels ‘Trump’ and ‘MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN’ have connotations that reverberate [sic] beyond this campus and into the larger xenophobic and racist discourse that has surrounded this general election,” the petition self-righteously declares. It alleges that by attaching Trump’s slogan to the sandbag wall, “they are sending a clear message to students of color, especially Latino and Muslim students, that they are not welcome here. The wall is a tangible embodiment of the daily aggressions that Latino and Muslim students face at this school.”
Besides failing to mention any concrete “aggressions” faced by such students, the petition at least does acknowledge that “KA has since claimed that these labels were satirical.” Nevertheless, its author declares that “it’s impossible to separate the ‘intent’ of the wall from its real, direct impact, which is that it has only contributed to the exclusionary environment faced by Latino and Muslim students on campus.”
“We want a community free of racism, free of xenophobia, free of anti-immigrant sentiments. We want to create a community that does not tolerate prejudice and open discrimination,” the petition declares. “The actions of Kappa Alpha has [sic] threatened this community; the individuals who took down their wall have only bolstered it.”
There you have it, folks: a university which does not condemn attacks on private property, more unsubstantiated allegations of racism on college campuses, and a typo-ridden petition demonstrating that people these days can no longer take a joke.