Community members respond to recent campus graffiti incident

Photograph by Kamryn Ford

On Oct.11, the Lewis & Clark community awoke to several graffiti messages spray-painted across all three campuses, criticizing the history of the institution’s namesakes. A report with the Portland Police Bureau was filed by Campus Safety in response to the incident, but the responsible individual(s) have not yet been identified.  

President Wim Wiewel responded to the incident in an email statement sent out to the entire LC community. Wiewel began by acknowledging the Indigenous tribes whose homeland LC resides on, as well as LC’s position on the issue. 

“As an institution that was founded on Indigenous land, we acknowledge that our very existence plays a role in the trauma of colonization,” Wiewel said. “This trauma affects us as individuals and as a broader campus community, and can be painful and difficult to process.”

In an effort to turn the dialogue about the issue from the past to the future, the President made an appeal to individual reflection on the matter.

“We must acknowledge and honor differences, and strive to understand the inequities that exist and the harm that has been done. This is what motivates me, and I hope it inspires you as well.” Wiewel said.

Dr. Carma Corcoran, director of Indian Law at Lewis & Clark Law School, was first notified about the graffiti by students at the law school. Corcoran reported concerns that the incident would be falsely connected to Indigenous students at LC. 

“That’s not the way I protest,” Corcoran said. “(However) I am empathetic, I understand completely the issues at play … going to school (and) teaching within the institutions of Lewis & Clark.” 

Corcoran expressed disappointment in the way that LC’s administration handled the incident. 

“Nobody within the (LC law) faculty or administration reached out to me about it, which I did feel was interesting,” Corcoran said. 

Native Student Union (NSU) leaders Annabelle Rousseau ’23 and Alberto Partida ’22 also found the email statements on Oct. 11 from Wiewel and Vice President of Student Life and Dean of Students Robin Holmes-Sullivan to be lacking.

“I did appreciate how (Holmes-Sullivan) did go into the trauma that people may feel on Indigenous Peoples’ Day,” Rousseau said. “But … (there was) no call to action, no reference to any kind of work that can or should be done.”

Corcoran echoed Rousseau’s sentiments. 

“I think they could have handled it better by acknowledging the response to the letter that came out campus wide … and then stated … any action that … they should do going forward,” Corcoran said. 

According to Partida, it is important that LC’s administration begin focusing on actionable items that support Indigenous students and communities.

“I feel like within the context of going to a college named Lewis & Clark, you’d want to support the Native community at that school more, and we haven’t felt any outreach from them,” Partida said.  

Wiewel listed the Land Acknowledgment, the Law School’s Indian Law Program and courses offered in the College of Arts and Sciences related to Native American history as actions on LC’s part in honoring the legacies of the Indigenous peoples. However, Wiewel recognized that these actions are not entirely sufficient. 

“As terrific as these various programs are, I will not pretend we are doing enough collectively to honor the lives and legacies of Native Americans.” Wiewel said in an email statement to The Pioneer Log.  “We need to do more, and that will be among the priorities I discuss with Mark Figueroa’s interim and permanent replacement(s) as Dean of Diversity and Inclusion.”

The graffiti on Oct. 11 contributed to an ongoing conversation about a name change for LC.  Rousseau and Partida suggested that LC’s administration hold a panel for student input about the college’s name. 

Wiewel detailed the LC administration’s plans regarding the potential for a name-change. 

“Earlier this week, ASLC leaders, Vice President Holmes-Sullivan and I sat down to discuss how we might create a shared learning experience to raise questions, issues and ideas about the relation between the College’s name and our values of caring, critical thinking and equity and inclusion,” Wiewel said via email. 

While details have yet to be finalized, the group hopes to host a campus wide discussion in February. All members of the LC community will be invited to “celebrate the positive aspects and critically reflect on the negative (aspects)” regarding the institution’s name.  

According to Corcoran, who hails from the Chippewa-Cree tribe of Montana, LC’s name change should be a thoughtful process, one that begins with involving Indigenous tribes in Oregon. 

“Getting input from the nine tribes would be so important, because this is the place that their ancestors walk,” Corcoran said. “This is the blood of their people. And as a member of the Lewis & Clark community, I care very deeply, (but) it would not be up to me to (decide) what the name should be. We need the advice of their elders and leaders.” 

Rousseau explained how students who feel inclined to advocate for a name change or larger systemic change in response to the graffiti, can take more substantial actions in the future. Going forward, NSU plans to celebrate Indigenous Heritage Month in November and potentially collaborate with other student unions for future events. 

“​​I really urge people that were either ignited or impassioned by the graffiti and what it stood for to come out to (our) events and engage in discussions with us, because we would really love that,” Rousseau said.

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