MINNEAPOLIS -- More than 150 University of Minnesota students marched into a planned meeting on campus climate to protest a controversial sign.

Last week during the annual "Paint the Bridge" event, College Republicans at the U of M chose to paint their panel on the Washington Avenue Bridge with the phrase "Build the Wall" from Donald Trump's presidential campaign. One person or more than one person then painted over that with "Stop White Supremacy." Saturday, U of M President Eric Kaler condemned the vandalism and said "Build the Wall" is protected speech.

The incident then became the focus of a Campus Conversation. About six of these conversations are held on campus each school year. This one was scheduled before the "Paint the Bridge" controversy occurred and focused on campus climate.

"We want to advance this conversation," President Kaler said at the beginning of the meeting.

About 10 minutes in, protesters marched in chanting, "Hey, hey, ho, ho, racism has got to go." Protesters had started at Coffman Memorial Union, marching to the University Recreation and Wellness Center where the discussion was being held.

The phrase "Build the Wall" was painted over with "Stop White Supremacy" and other pictures on the Washington Avenue Bridge. (Photo: KARE)  
The phrase "Build the Wall" was painted over with "Stop White Supremacy" and other pictures on the Washington Avenue Bridge. (Photo: KARE)  

"As a first-generation Mexican-American student... I feel directly impacted by the hate speech because that's what it is. It is not free speech," said José Manuel Santillana, a graduate student at the U of M.

Santillana spoke on stage with Kaler sitting near him.

Another student, Sophomore Sumaya Mohamed, said to the crowd, "'Build a wall,' that's a phrase telling us that we are not wanted, that we are not heard, we are not cared for, that we mean nothing."

At one point, one of the protesters asked if anyone with College Republicans was in the audience. Madison Faupel, president of the group, raised her hand.

"I felt obligated to come and kind of definitely stand up for free speech and for my student group. And I also wanted to hear the other side of the story," Faupel said.

Faupel said after the meeting that she disagrees the phrase is a form of hate speech.

"You can't argue with free speech. Free speech is free speech. It's in the Constitution. It is what it is and I think Kaler's response was appropriate."

Protesters voiced their concerns for about an hour, then Kaler spoke to the group.

"The best thing for hate speech, if you think it's hate speech, is more speech. The best thing for free speech is more speech. I've listened to you, the group has listened to the speakers that we've had here today, and I think all of us have learned something," he said.

Faupel told KARE 11 the College Republicans plan to repaint the phrase "Build the Wall" on their panel on the Washington Avenue Bridge.