Students join in knocking down 'wall of hatred'

Published: Friday, January 29, 2010 at 8:28 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 29, 2010 at 8:28 p.m.

University of Florida student Guillermo Valle, a third-year business administration major, spent most of this week studying at Library West.

On his way there each day, Valle's eyes were drawn to the colorful wall tagged with an array of negative messages.

Phrases like “fake Haitian,” “baby killer” and “you don’t have what it takes” dotted the structure between various racial and ethnic slurs. They inspired Valle to join in tearing down the wall Friday and shattering its messages.

“I love people and believe everyone should be loved,” Valle said. “I want to be a part of tearing down these barriers and ending this hatred.”

Valle was one of about 250 people who gathered on the Plaza of the Americas to watch the 40-foot by 9-foot concrete wall, built for the Writing On The Wall Project, tumble and shatter during closing ceremonies Friday.

The project, which is sponsored by the Inter-Residence Hall Association, aims is to raise awareness of the levels of intolerance, racism and oppression that still exist in society, according to project director Padma Chamarthy. Students volunteered to add their frustrations and the hurtful terms they’ve been called of they've heard on the blocks used to construct the wall.

“We understand the project is not going to make great changes,” said Cary Warsetsky, administrative director for the group. “But if we can get people to pause and think about what they say before they speak, we will have been successful.”

This year’s wall raised controversy when Ana Laura Martinez, a Cuban-American UF student, protested the project Wednesday for having the word “Cuban” on it.

Martinez’s objections opened the door for dialogue and brought attention to the project, Chamarthy said in a speech during Friday's ceremony.

Michael Tate, 21, a third-year mechanical engineering major, said it is absurd that people would protest the project on the basis that it perpetuates hatred and wonders whether protesters truly understand the goal of the wall.

“If all these (words) really do offend them, they should just bring a sledgehammer and knock it down,” he said.

Another observer, sophomore economics major John Callovi, 20, was surprised to find his first name in bold capital letters at the top of the wall. He has no idea why the name John is offensive, he said, but the project reminded him that words mean different things to different people.

The fact that the project unites people in the process of tearing the wall down is symbolic and inspiring, said Lea Schiller, 20, a third-year criminology major.

“I could probably find 15 things on this wall that people have called me,” Schiller said, “and yet I don’t let it define me as a person.”

The ceremony also featured readings of original essays by Gabriela Gonzalez and Mary Liu, students who won the Writing on the Wall essay contest.

Liu, a mathematics and computer science major, chose to write about assimilating into American culture after leaving her native China in lieu of writing a negative message on the wall.

“I wanted to contribute to the project somehow,” she said, “but I don’t think I have had enough negative experiences to share.”

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