Senior Maitreya Menge stood in the hall, paintbrush in hand. She got ready to pour herself out, expressing the subjects nearest to her heart. With the first stroke of her paint brush, Menge started a conflict that she couldn’t have seen coming.
“I was told to paint a mural that meant something to me, something that I cared about, and that’s just what I did,” Menge said.
Murals have lined the walls of the school for years. They are created as a part of the “Drawing and Painting” class taught by art teacher Autumn Campbell. Student artists like Menge take this as an opportunity to share their artwork in a public space with the rest of the school.
Before the designs are finalized and painted, they are sent to Principal Kit Moran, who ultimately approves or denies them. Moran said he has not turned down a single mural idea.
“As long as the content doesn’t make a personal attack on a certain group or student or causes a disturbance to the school day, then I generally will allow it,” he said.
But sometimes self-expression, though deemed not offensive by administration, can cause problems with the beliefs of other students or faculty.
But with thousands of students passing through the school each year, it’s inevitable that some controversial mural ideas would collide with the views and beliefs of certain students, even if they are principal-approved.
Last year, Menge themed her murals around the subject of transgenderism.
“It’s really the idea that most people don’t recognize the struggles of transgenderism,” Menge said.
Her mural features characters with word bubbles surrounding their heads containing words such as “who,” “him,” “she,” “it” and “her,” etc.–making a statement about the characters’ sexuality.
But almost as soon as these murals appeared a concerned student contacted Principal Kit Moran, outraged. This student agreed to be interviewed for the story only if The Squall didn’t use her name.
“It is my personal belief that the mural showing a transgender’s struggle is not appropriate for the walls of our school,” she said. “In general, I enjoy the art murals in the school. However, I believe that they should not have any subject matter that promotes certain views one way or another.”
She said that although she knows public schools aren’t allowed to promote religious beliefs, she thinks that schools also shouldn’t be able to promote ideas that oppose these religious beliefs either.
But for Menge, the murals weren’t about promoting a certain idea. Instead, she was focused on educating people.
“I did not foresee people being upset about the mural,” she said. “I’m not trying to influence anyone to think a certain way, but rather to shed light on a subject that is generally ignored.”
Several meetings were held between the concerned student and Moran, but in the end, Moran made the decision to leave the murals up.
“The student has a right to express themselves,” Moran said. “All murals are signed and dated. The content does not necessarily express the school’s views, but rather the views of the artist. We have to learn to respect that other people have different views and opinions.”