Hundreds of Notre Dame students, employees and alumni believe Christopher Columbus is no hero and they want 12 prominent murals that were painted in the 19th century and depict what they say is glorified version of Columbus to be removed from the campus.
They say the works cast a pall on the school and are the school's “own version of a Confederate monument.”
More than 300 students, employees and alumni signed a letter alerting John Jenkins, the president of Notre Dame, they would continue protesting until the murals are removed.
They argue the frescos painted by Vatican portrait artist Luigi Gregori in 1874 are “a highly problematic vision of Western triumphalism, Catholic militarism and an overly romantic notion of American expansion.”
The murals mock diversity on campus and cast “Native persons” in a stereotypical fashion by lauding “the beginning of the centuries-long systemic removal of Native American persons and culture form the United States,” they wrote in the letter.
Notre Dame spokesman Dennis Brown acknowledged the sensitivity of the murals, but said they are “of historic and artistic value” and added there are “no plans” for Notre Dame “to remove them.”
The frescos are painted on the walls of the school’s main building and trying to remove them “would destroy them in all likelihood,” Brown said.
He said the school has provided brochures on a stand next to the murals “that provide context and perspective on them.”
The pamphlets state the “responsibility” of the university’s moral commitments and asks each spectator to understand the period in which they were created.
The murals themselves, the pamphlets say, reflect artifacts of the “past hopes of European Catholic immigrants who wanted to carve out a niche in an often hostile society.”
The pamphlets also suggest the images fail “to account for the suffering of Native Americans.”
“We encourage you to consider what these paintings mean to the 19th century Americans of European origin and what they mean to us today,” according to the pamphlets.
Brown said school administrators realize that "times have changed" and that the “narrative on Columbus has changed dramatically over 150 years since the murals were painted.”
But protesters argue the pamphlets are still not enough.
Brown said the school is considering installing “a more prominent sign or plaque next to the murals” that sums up the language printed in the accompanying pamphlets.
“We hope to put something that is more prominent and more permanent,” he said.