Freedom of expression questioned at Allen Hall

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Beth Dunn, sophomore in LAS, takes down a poster about the vulva from Hopkins Hall, Monday. Erica Magda

By Andy Kwalwaser

At first glance, it looks like graffiti that might be found on a bathroom wall: ink stains, scribbled remarks, a drawing of a vagina.

Look closer.

Written statements about censorship and free speech replaced a tissue-paper vulva that was removed from a bulletin board in Allen Hall by the University Division of Housing last week.

Celine Browning, Allen Hall multicultural advocate and senior in FAA, said she posted the picture and text earlier in the month to “reclaim” offensive images and language about women’s bodies.

“I can’t speak for all residents, but I had gotten positive responses,” Browning said.

Inclusive Illinois, the University’s diversity awareness initiative, received an anonymous e-mail criticizing the image soon after it appeared in the hall.

Any correspondence with the Inclusive Illinois program “is taken seriously” whether it is anonymous or not, said Menah Pratt-Clarke, assistant provost and associate director of equal opportunity and access.

The e-mail was forwarded to the University Division of Housing on Feb. 8, said Corey Ohms, program coordinator for social justice and leadership education at Allen Hall. The image and text were removed three days later at a directive from Housing, he said.

Ohms said Housing officials issued an apology to staff members for the manner in which the board was removed.

“A complex situation was treated like it was something simple. And it wasn’t,” Ohms said.

Urbana North Area Coordinator Herb Jones declined the opportunity to comment on the situation but directed questions relating to the bulletin board to Jim Rooney, associate director for Housing and director of residential life.

A representative from Rooney’s office directed questions to Housing’s division of public relations.

Jack Collins, director of Housing, could not be reached after repeated phone calls were made to his office.

Residents expressed concerns about censorship at a forum in Allen Hall on Wednesday night.

“There should have been some mediation before there was destruction,” one student said, “If some form of discussion had taken place, the board would still be here.”

Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Renee Romano said supporters of the board should have offered a program explaining their message.

Browning said she scheduled a discussion of the subject matter at Allen Hall for Feb. 10, the day before the board was removed, but no one attended.

Ohms said students and Housing officials should develop a plan to deal with similar issues in the future.

“The good news is we’re talking about developing a policy that wasn’t there before,” Ohms said.

“No one wants to be a censor in an intellectual environment,” Ohms added. “This is an environment that is not just for students. We have public spaces that are accessed by people that work here, and parents. We want to do no harm.”

Allen Hall program director Laura Haber said education and expression should be examined together.

“On one hand, we want to have an inclusive community where everyone feels safe and welcome,” Haber said. “On the other hand, we are also part of the educational mission of the University. Being educated is not always a comfortable situation.”