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App State students say goodbye to the free expression tunnels

El+comit%C3%A9+de+diversidad%2C+equidad%2C+e++inclusi%C3%B3n+y+enlace+del+gobierno+estudiantil++Amarah+Din+habla+en+la+junta+de+la+SGA+en+la+sala+Linville+Falls+el+cinco+de+marzo.
Hayden Wittenborn
El comité de diversidad, equidad, e inclusión y enlace del gobierno estudiantil Amarah Din habla en la junta de la SGA en la sala Linville Falls el cinco de marzo.

Chancellor Sheri Everts announced in an email March 1 that the free expression tunnels underneath Rivers Street will be renovated to a new design that does not allow students to spray paint on the walls. 

Following the announcement, several students have voiced concerns about the loss of the free expression aspect of the tunnels on social media apps such as YikYak, through a petition created on Change.org and during the public comments section of a March 5 SGA meeting. 

Around 80 students attended the SGA meeting and around 20 spoke. Every speaker said they did not support the university’s decision to remove the free expression abilities of students in the tunnels. 

“This feels like a canvas taken away from me,” a public commenter said. The commenters applauded, showing their agreement with losing their place of expression. “If we really care about our expressive freedom, we will do anything we can to get these tunnels back.” 

Another commenter shared a personal story about the tunnels.

Second-year Representative Matthew Felipe raises his name card to ask a question during the Student Government Association meeting in the Linville Falls Room on March 5. (Hayden Wittenborn)

“I failed my classes first semester,” he said. “Every week since September 21 of 2023, I’ve gone to paint Sisyphus rolling a boulder up a hill.” 

The student said he felt represented by the Greek myth of the man rolling a boulder up a hill and has used the tunnels to express the feelings of constant perseverance with paint.

  At the March 19 meeting, the SGA reviewed a new version of this bill that more accurately reflects the student opinion voiced at the previous meeting. 

Vice President Margaret-Ann Littauer said the SGA plans to vote on the bill at the SGA’s meeting on April 9. 

Commenters voiced concerns over safety issues posed by renovations, saying the debris and sand created by the sandblasting can be a liability for those with asthma. As well as safety concerns, one commenter said each tunnel can reserve one wall for free expression.

“I came to App and had my introductory tour, like other students did and the tunnels were one of the first things I saw,” a commenter said. “The first mural I saw was one that went through the entire right side tunnel of all the school shootings that have happened in the last couple of years.” 

Commenters proposed ideas to preserve free expression on campus, as well as expressing frustration with money being spent on renovations instead of scholarships. 

Commenters proposed ideas to preserve free expression on campus, as well as expressing frustration with money being spent on renovations instead of scholarships. 

App State College Democrats released a statement March 22, denouncing the tunnel renovation, calling it “Chancellor Evert’s Assault on Freedom of Speech and Expression.”

The removal of the free expression tunnels is listed as one of four ways the College Democrats feel students’ First Amendment rights are being violated. The others mentioned are the cancellation of drag related events and the renaming of Pride Week to Spring Fest.

Construction for the tunnels began the week before spring break. Reasons for the renovation included safety concerns such as slippery floors, low lighting and a lack of a monitoring system. 

“Over the years, the university has received feedback that the Rivers Street tunnels feel dark and creepy, have low visibility, and that they don’t feel like a safe place,” wrote Anna Oakes, the news and media relations director for University Communications, in an email. 

Thick layers of paint contribute to the low visibility and slick floors, Oakes wrote. 

Included in the email sent by Everts was a conceptual rendering of the new design of the tunnels. The design includes bright yellow lettering, saying, “Today I give my all for App State,” across one wall. The design also features white floors with large boot print patterns leading through the tunnel, similar to the faded prints leading up Stadium Drive, and bright lights. 

“The tunnels, which for many years have been dark and covered in graffiti, are on their way to becoming bright, secure pathways that reflect school spirit,” Everts wrote. 

Several university staff members were a part of the planning process for the redesign of the tunnels, including the creation of the wall and floor design, Oakes wrote. 

Students expressed sympathy as well for the App State Police, who will monitor the camera systems and patrol the tunnels, saying, “They’re students too.” 

Oakes confirmed in an email the cameras will be monitored by App State Police.  

Sandblasting began on the tunnels once the university received the lights they will install in the tunnel, which were on backorder. 

Student Body President JP Neri said he felt the public comments sections of SGA meetings are a great way for SGA to advocate for students and for SGA to listen to students and what they care about. Neri said freedom of expression and speech are a priority for SGA.

“I think the public comments section went really well,” he said. “It’s the most engagement the student government has seen in quite a while. They are a resource for us to know and advocate for students based on their perspectives.”

SGA planned on discussing and voting on a bill that would show SGA’s support for the renovation of the tunnels, but the bill was dismissed before the meeting. 

This is the first time a bill has been dismissed in the SGA since they restructured their constitution, Neri said.

Para leer en español hace clic aquí.

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About the Contributors
Siri Patterson, News Editor
Siri Patterson (she/her/hers) is a junior journalism major with a minor in political science. This is her second year writing for The Appalachian.
Mia Seligman, Enterprise Editor
Mia Seligman is a sophomore journalism major with a minor in gender, women's, and sexuality studies from Asheville, NC. This is her second year at The Appalachian. (She/her)
Hayden Wittenborn, Photographer
Hayden Wittenborn (she/her) is a junior Advertising major, Business minor, from Cary, N.C. This is her first year with The Appalachian.
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Comments (16)

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  • A

    Alison GulleyApr 11, 2024 at 10:33 am

    If students truly feel it’s dark and unsafe (a sentiment I haven’t heard in my 16 years here), why not just add lights and keep the graffiti?

    Reply
  • A

    Allyson LyonsApr 2, 2024 at 8:55 am

    If App State wants to brand the tunnels, rather than filling them with the uninspiring slogan “Give Your All” and the dreadful “Roll ‘Neers,” how about using “Express Yosef!” and leaving the tunnels as a creative space?!

    Reply
  • D

    DavidMar 29, 2024 at 7:23 am

    A tunnel full of toxic paint fumes, kudos to the Chancellor. Unless you own the tunnels, you don’t have a right to spray paint property thats not yours anyway.

    Reply
    • M

      MuChaoMar 30, 2024 at 8:37 am

      You must be new here. Painting the tunnels has been a tradition for decades, so students 100% had the right to do this. ffs, they’re literally called the “free expression tunnels,” being able to freely paint in them is, quite literally, part of their purpose.

      Reply
  • K

    KLBZCMar 29, 2024 at 2:11 am

    I failed my classes so every day I paint Sisyphys? Really? How about studying?! Snowflakes!

    Reply
    • S

      StephenMar 31, 2024 at 8:45 am

      So, instead of sharing an insightful, thought-provoking comment, you simply resort to baseless name-calling. Way to freely express yourself!

      Reply
  • N

    Nicole CobbMar 28, 2024 at 6:04 pm

    I whole heartedly disagree with the proposal to change the access to self expression in these tunnels. My daughter as well has benefited from being able to use this medium for self expression. Furthermore she is an art student and I concur with the other comments made about the poor learning conditions. This is a disgrace that the art students have to face these barriers in trying to access there educational needs. Shouldn’t funds be allocated appropriately to meet the needs of all App state students?

    Reply
  • R

    Renee GannonMar 28, 2024 at 3:42 pm

    I am an alumni of NC State, where the Free Expression tunnel has been a landmark of the university for more than 50 years. When I saw the ASU free expression tunnel as a parent of a current App St student, I felt proud that ASU also recognized the benefit of free expression. If NC State can make it secure for all and still allow student freedom of expression, why not App St?

    Reply
  • T

    The Rubber Poop ManMar 28, 2024 at 11:42 am

    The loss of this fundamental right to express via art who may or may not have orally aspirated the testis of a particular suborder of simian is a travesty. #CaptianTee

    Reply
  • D

    Darlene StevensMar 28, 2024 at 9:20 am

    When my daughter started College there in 2021 we went through the tunnels, I thought what a great way for the kids to express themselves.
    However the art students not only got that taken away from them. But also the past year and a half there has been construction on a condemned Way building. The Wey Building is where the art department is located. These students and faculty has to deal with ceiling tiles falling down, holes in the walls, jack hammers going on during class time, class lectures being held in hallways. No hear to air and bathroom facilities has mold. Art students are not paying for the same quality of education as the rest of the students body. Something needs to be done!
    I am a very concerned parent and will be contacting the school about these issues

    Reply
    • R

      RobertMar 28, 2024 at 12:04 pm

      I am disappointed to hear of the loss of the free expression tunnels, my wife is an alum and showed them to our daughter while we were touring the campus. She is attending this fall and I certainly hope Appalachian State holds up to the praise it has been given by my wife. Students need this outlet for expression and writing on a blog or with a marker just doesn’t cut it. I agree with making spaces well lit but formal and sterile not so much. Listen to your students…..

      Reply
  • S

    StephenMar 28, 2024 at 7:44 am

    Thank you App State. Clean tunnels reflect on a University that cares how it looks and this was a disgrace to see. Free expression has not been affected as the students could use a pen, or keyboard and greater thought and creative expression. Their ideas may be better received and presented with more thought and depth and free expression.

    Reply
    • H

      Hercule PoirotMar 28, 2024 at 1:18 pm

      Well said. I worked with AppState previously before transferring to another UNC System College. I did not like going through the tunnels, they were dark, creepy, slick, and I rarely saw true art expression. What I did see were vulgar messages, genitalia, and anti-Semitic phrases. This is not freedom of expression, it’s immaturity and stuff you would find on bathroom stall doors in school. If it had been racist remarks against color or queers, they would have rioted to have it removed. The ‘freedom of expression’ was biased and students have other venues to use expression. The tunnels need to be refreshed and welcoming to all.

      Reply
      • J

        Jane MarpleMar 29, 2024 at 10:29 pm

        The freedom of expression was biased because it wasn’t welcoming to racist remarks and anti-LGBTQ sentiments? Those poor students who don’t have an outlet for all their hate.

        Reply
      • M

        MuChaoMar 30, 2024 at 8:42 am

        Well I guess you wouldn’t know (since you left and all), but the tunnels have 100% seen racist and homophobic messaging painted before. Students did not “riot to have them removed” the offensive material was painted over with something else, usually quite quickly, too. This has nothing to do with “free expression bias,” no matter how much you might want to try and convince yourself of that.

        Reply
    • M

      MuChaoMar 30, 2024 at 8:46 am

      I assume then that you’re concerned over the (literally) crumbling infrastructure? The concrete stairs falling apart? The asbestos tiling in old buildings? Building with radon issues? The leaky ceilings? The rodent issues? The broken classroom equipment? You think that some spray paint in tunnels designated as the “free expression tunnels” is disgraceful?

      “Clean tunnels” are the least of the university’s image problems.

      Reply