A boulder on the University of Calgary campus became a revolving canvas for free speech Monday after early-morning students arrived to find racist messages emblazoned on its surface.
The Rocks, as they are known on campus, sit outside the MacEwan Student Centre. They are regularly painted with slogans or pictures.
On Monday morning, the rocks greeted students with a freshly painted image of a Confederate flag.
“I heard from other friends that it was being painted last night and that people first saw it this morning,” said student Clare Hickie.
Shortly after arriving on campus, Hickie said she and a friend grabbed some paint to replace the flag with a more positive message.
The Confederate flag, according to student Amy Willumsen, was covered and replaced with a heart and the message “Canada loves all people.”
“It was actually really disturbing. I don’t think that [the Confederate flag] is a symbol that should have any place up in Canada,” she said.
From there, the message was transformed again to the word “Trump” with a heart, which was replaced by the words “Black Lives Matter.”
Wilumsen said the next message supported John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister, in his racist views.
In an emailed statement, the University of Calgary said it is committed to fostering an environment of free inquiry, open debate and diversity of opinions.
“The Rocks have become a long-standing symbol of free expression at the University of Calgary,” reads the statement, adding that the Rocks have no official ownership and messages painted on them are often self-policed by students.
“The university supports students or others sharing their views about subjects — including those that are controversial — in a safe and respectful manner.”
The school said any student who is concerned about messages painted on the rocks can contact campus security who can review hateful or offensive messages and determine the next steps.
Student Alex Cameron was one of the students who chose to alter the rock messages himself, painting peace signs to cover the controversial messages.
“[The Confederate flag] is instigating, it’s a very polarized symbol and it’s going to incite some kind of reaction,” he said. “I wasn’t down with it.”