"Silence is Not an Option" - Morris Gets National Attention Over Tunnel Poster

By Melissa Voss, News Editor Originally published in Issue 4, Volume 32 of The University Register on Friday, October 25, 2019

The University of Minnesota Morris student body and alumni have raised their voices on social media, breaking the silence on a heated debate on free vs. hate speech on the Morris campus. On October 10, University of Minnesota Morris student Peter Truckenmiller posted two images of posters found in the Science-Student Center tunnel on Facebook: one showing three glasses saying “Optimist ...This glass is half full,” “Pessimist...This glass is half empty,” and “Feminist...This glass is being raped,” and the other showing male and female symbols and the phrase “Even when it only comes in two genders.” Both posters were labelled with “UMM College Republicans," their weekly meeting place and time, as well as the quoted phrase “Never be afraid of being right.”

Beneath the images, Truckenmiller stated an address to the UMM official Facebook, calling out the university for enstating programs that encourage the protection of students but “[continue] to support the organizations responsible for monetary aid from the student activities fund, as well as your continued words on how the campus just needs to love each other, you are part of the problem ...do things that are directly counterintuitive to these programs.” Truckenmiller finished his post stating a call to action, calling on the university to protect its students in ensuring a safe environment for students to learn: “Silence is not an option.”

UMM Chancellor Behr has also responded to the matter, stating that the posters have been brought to her attention: “I have heard your concerns regarding language and images being used on our campus that inflame and divide ...Let me assure you campus leaders take building an inclusive and respectful campus seriously and are taking action in this area.” Chancellor Behr also stated that although free speech is encouraged and valued on the UMM campus, there is a line when crossing to harassing and hateful speech: “While we embrace free expression, we also recognize that exercising this right comes with responsibility. Use of intentionally provocative speech impacts our campus and those targeted in the messaging, leading to individuals and student communities feeling invalidated, isolated, and unsafe. It isn’t acceptable to treat one another that way.”

Nearly two weeks later, Truckenmiller’s post has been shared over 200 times on Facebook alone and even more on Twitter. He has also been interviewed for three newspapers and mentioned in the national online news site, Newsweek. But despite having all the press attention, Truckenmiller states that he is only one voice of many: “I’m just a guy who made a social media post, don’t expect me to know everything... I’m just a voice of many and it just so happens that my post got the press attention. But this is a discussion that has been here long before I have been here and will be here long after I leave.”

In response to his post, Truckenmiller has received numerous responses from previous alumni speaking about their experiences with the UMM College Republicans posting potentially harmful and hateful content all around campus. The UMM College Republicans have responded to the controversial posters as well. According to the Star Tribune, Tayler Lehmann, president of the UMM College Republicans, said the group had nothing to do with the “inflammatory” flyers and that he had no idea who posted them. Lehmann said that College Republicans didn’t condone “the content of the poster.” He added that free speech was “being attacked” on campus, and that “those who hold conservative religious beliefs are seen to be ‘inciting violence,” according t o the Star Tribune.

Currently there have been no administrative actions taken in response to the posters besides the announcements from President Gabel and Chancellor Behr, and a letter provided by the Morris Campus Student Association (MCSA), the Morris Queer Student Initiative for Equality (MoQSIE), and the Muslim Student Association (MSA), which was endorsed by 41 other UMM student organizations.