On April 17, eight pieces of art by PVCC students and faculty were removed from a display at the Maricopa County Community College District office in Tempe due to employees’ complaints.
Ceramic bas-relief nudes comprised the offending work. The complaints from female employees expressed the workers’ discomfort around the display and fell into the category of sexual descrimination complaints.
Artists responded by decrying the perceived infringement of freedom of speech.
This is all very awkward. Students proud of their work, who were invited to display it at District, now taste rejection from the education system instead of the affirmation that the invitation initially inspired. The unfortunate turn of events is not a first.
In February 2006, campus security tore down a graphic display of student art in the then-new PVCC Center for Performing Arts. The display, which featured several four-letter words, was mistaken for vandalism. The entire collection of student work was then removed from the hallway to a side room where only those who intended to view it would do so. Again, students raised cries of censorship and expressed the sting of the perceived rejection.
I fear that this kind of incident feels to students like a betrayal by the very system that is a nurturing force in their lives.
While I respect the sexual discrimination complaints and understand that they tend to overpower the first ammendment arguments in a court of law, I regret that this event has potentially disheartened students, contrary to the mission of education.
If we’re going to promote diversity and tolerance in the community colleges, and we do, shouldn’t this tolerance extend to student art displays?