Responding to criticism from Native Americans, the University of Notre Dame will cover 12 historic murals in a campus building that depict Christopher Columbus in America.
Created in the 1880s, the murals by Luis Gregori were intended to encourage new immigrants during a period of anti-Catholic sentiment.
But the president of the Catholic institution, the Rev. John Jenkins, said in a letter Tuesday that the murals will be covered because there’s a “darker side of this story, a side we must acknowledge,” the Associated Press reported.
The president explained that he received criticism that the images – painted on the walls of the university’s Main Building – show Native Americans in stereotypical submissive poses before white European explorers.
Jenkins said the murals could still could be occasionally displayed, AP reported. And a new display of photos of the murals will be created elsewhere with an explanation of their context, the president explained.
“We wish to preserve artistic works originally intended to celebrate immigrant Catholics who were marginalized at the time in society, but do so in a way that avoids unintentionally marginalizing others,” Jenkins wrote.
AP noted that in 2017, a letter signed by more than 300 students, employees and Notre Dame alumni called for the removal of the murals.
The president of the Native American Student Association praised the decision, but AP also quoted a Notre Dame law student, Grant Strobl, who questioned it.
“If we adopt the standard of judging previous generations by current standards, we may reach a point where there are no longer accomplishments to celebrate,” Strobl said.
Inside Higher Education reported a letter from an alumna published in the student newspaper, The Notre Dame Observer, defended Columbus as a “brilliant navigator” whose history has been distorted.
“Even more divisive than the twisted facts employed in anti-Columbus rhetoric, however, is its twisted logic,” the letter said. “It simply doesn’t make sense to argue that Columbus should be held responsible for all the crimes committed by those who came after him.
“If we go on a revisionist crusade, only Mary atop the Dome is safe.”
The president of the Native American Student Association of Notre Dame responded with his own letter, Inside Higher Education said.
“Our ‘attack’ is not political (it’s not even just about Columbus!), but a call for human dignity and progress,” he wrote.
“The most open form of representation that natives get on Notre Dame’s campus is not through a faculty member, administrator or celebration – but through pictures of our people in chains. This needs to be addressed immediately.”