A California State University Northridge official defended a large, painted mural on campus that includes images of an upside-down American flag and a fang-toothed border patrol agent, telling The College Fix the artwork is protected under the First Amendment.
“As a higher education institution, CSUN has a responsibility to encourage a wide variety of views and to be an educational and public forum for expression of divergent views, including those that some may find distasteful or unpopular,” CSUN spokesman Jeff Noblitt told The College Fix in an email last week.
Noblitt added the mural – a permanent fixture on campus painted by Chicano Studies students in 1999 to commemorate the department’s 30th anniversary – “solely represents the views of the students who created it, not the views of the university.”
But over the years, the artwork has offended student veterans at the Los Angeles-based public university, including Jason Freudenrich, 36, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq in 2003. Freudenrich told The College Fix he felt revolted the first time he came across the mural in 2008 as a student there.
“I was shocked, I was truly shocked,” he said in a telephone interview last week. “I was filled with anger. A public university – my taxpayer dollars – goes to fund this picture of a U.S. flag upside-down?”
Today Freudenrich (pictured at left) works as an adjunct English professor at Pierce College, an L.A.-based community college. But he told The Fix he can still recall the frustration he felt as an undergrad at CSUN who walked by that mural to get to class.
“Day after day it just bugged me,” he said. “And come to find out, it bugged a lot of veterans.”
The mural also includes an image of a fanged-toothed border patrol agent, called an Immigration and Naturalization Service officer, or INS for short.
“They are demonizing the border patrol,” Freudenrich said. “They are saying these people are evil and bad.”
It was all too much for Freudenrich, who worked to get the university to do something about the artwork. He made a YouTube video that aimed to rally people against the imagery, and he convinced local veterans groups to write letters to the administration – all to no avail.
“It always came back as ‘it’s freedom of speech and freedom of expression,’” said the former Marine, who added the mural still bugs him to this day.
“At the end of the day, I hope something can be done,” Freudenrich said. “I guarantee every veteran who walks through that building – every vet is disgusted by that image. That’s what we fought for – to keep that flag upright. … And what are we saying to them? Go ahead and spit on it.”
In his statement to The College Fix, Noblitt said “in years past, CSUN received a handful of complaints relating to this mural and specifically its depiction of the American flag. However, the university has not received any negative feedback regarding the mural in the past several years.”
“CSUN strongly supports our veteran students and honors the service of all veterans,” Noblitt added. “While we understand that this portrayal of the American flag is offensive and a provocation to some, the representation of our flag as depicted in the mural is protected as free speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Our veterans have risked life and limb to protect this and other essential rights.”
The hallway is under the purview of the Chicana and Chicano Studies department, described on the university’s website as “the largest of its kind in the country, housing 25 fulltime and 35 part time professors. Between 160-170 class sections are offered every semester.”
“It is customary for academic departments within CSUN to use the hallway and other wall space in their immediate areas for a variety of displays such as bulletin boards, paintings and posters,” Noblitt said.
“The mural depicts real events and people in history at CSUN and political issues of importance to the creators,” he said. “Murals are an important artistic and historic medium in the Chicana/o community.”