Vandalism of Pembroke campus diversity mural proves ‘our work isn’t done,’ Brulé says

Algonquin College president Claude Brulé said he felt “shock, dismay, anger, and disappointment” in response to the vandalism of the Pembroke portion of the college-wide Stronger Together diversity mural collection. OPP were looking for two people as police investigated the vandalized mural segment in August. An unknown white substance was splattered over the image of […]
Images of the white substance on the Stronger Together mural in Pembroke. Images provided by the Ontario Provincial Police in their press release. (credit to OPP)

Algonquin College president Claude Brulé said he felt “shock, dismay, anger, and disappointment” in response to the vandalism of the Pembroke portion of the college-wide Stronger Together diversity mural collection.

OPP were looking for two people as police investigated the vandalized mural segment in August. An unknown white substance was splattered over the image of an Indigenous woman and a Black person.

Algonquin College staff said they have no information suggesting that the vandalism was intended to be hateful. OPP media officer Mike Mahon said there is no new information, and that there is no information indicating if the damage was a hate crime.

Brulé said he “would not put a judgement on the motivation” to the damage the Pembroke mural. Finding the reason why the vandalism occurred is the responsibility of the police, he said.

A three-storey mural at the Woodroffe campus in January 2020 was also vandalized, but it was concluded that it was not hatefully motivated, according to Brulé. The yellow substance in that instance was thrown onto the bird portion of that mural.

“We resolved a determination to continue to use education, which is what we’re all about, to promote a sense of belonging, inclusion and diversity. Our work isn’t done, clearly, and we need to re-double our efforts,” explained Brulé.

The Stronger Together cross-campus mural collection was finished in May. The vibrant murals demonstrate the diversity of the college community. They connect the Algonquin College campuses together, and a digital version of the mural is displayed on the online campus.

The vandalism occurred mere days before the official unveiling of the mural. The inauguration of the murals was scheduled for Aug. 25 and the Pembroke mural was repaired in time. According to Sarah Hall, dean of the Pembroke campus, some repairs were made right away and some were performed later, but other repairs still needed to be finished as of Friday.

Images of the restored mural as of Friday. 
The Stronger Together mural was designed in a collaborative effort by Jimmy Baptiste, Allan Andre and Kalkidan Assefa. Algonquin College staff members and students partook in painting the collage.
Images of the restored mural as of Friday.
The Stronger Together mural was designed in a collaborative effort by Jimmy Baptiste, Allan Andre and Kalkidan Assefa. Algonquin College staff members and students partook in painting the collage. Photo credit: Madi Ivan-Feldcamp

Most of the damage is unnoticeable. Pembroke staff are responsible for scheduling the artists of the mural to make any outstanding repairs.

“We’re proud of this mural that represents welcoming culture,” Hall said, “and we will always continue to communicate this message. It also represents the connection with the other campuses, too, including the online campus.”

The mural was designed in a collaborative effort by Jimmy Baptiste, Allan Andre and Kalkidan Assefa. Stronger Together has a street art style. According to an Algonquin College press release on May 16, it was designed to not be restricted by colonial perceptions of art.

“I was surprised that was the reaction to that mural that represents the college community and the local community,” said Sara Lehnen, a library technician at the Pembroke campus who was working the day the vandalism was discovered. “[The mural] is so visible and it’s there. It’s there for the community. Who would see something like that and say, ‘I’m going to wreck it’?”

Lehnen participated in the painting of the mural, along with several other employees and students. The mural was designed as a paint-by-number so the college community could participate in its creation under the direction of the artists.

Brulé painted some of the white-tailed deer on the Woodroffe campus mural.

“The name of our mural, Stronger Together, is what I really want people to leave with,” Brulé said. “Our campuses are connected in so many ways and these murals offer a story and a narrative that we, from one campus to another, have such a compelling vision for inclusion, diversity, and sense of belonging. We couldn’t be prouder of how it connects us together.”

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