President Gibson: Art installation in Lech Walesa Hall ‘has now run its course’


Cecilia G. Hernandez

NEIU student Patrick Mercader stares at the pitch-black screens in Lech Walesa Hall. The screens were used to showcase the artwork from NEIU students and faculty protesting Lech Walesa’s name after Walesa said homophobic comments.

Cecilia G. Hernandez, Writer

“I have decided the art installation displayed in Lech Walesa Hall has now run its course,” President Gloria J. Gibson said via email to the NEIU community on Aug. 17. “The content will be preserved in our University Archives.”

As of Aug. 22, the screens used to display the artwork are now pitch-black.

The art installation was created by NEIU students and faculty in response to Lech Walesa’s homophobic comments in an interview aired on news channel TVN24 on March 1, 2013.

English Professor and First-Year Writing Coordinator Vicki Byard said she was “very surprised” to read Gibson’s email.

“I was very surprised because, from my knowledge, there was no discussion,” Byard said over a phone interview with the Independent. “The art installation was seen as a compromise situation. We would keep the name but show the controversy surrounding it (Lech Walesa) at the same time.”

Byard said the art installation was approached as a collaborative process, one where members of the NEIU community were able to vote upon a compromise strategy. Byard said it served as an example of how to go about addressing conflicting views in NEIU.

“For one person to come in and do that without including the input of the (NEIU) community is surprising and disturbing,” Byard said. “I know many professors who have their offices in that building refuse to call it by that name (Lech Walesa Hall). They call it by its former name, the Classroom Building.”

Interim Director of International Programs Dr. Cris E. Toffolo said that during her time teaching at the University of Warsaw, she raised this issue about what happened at NEIU to her students in Poland.

Toffolo said she divided her students into six groups and explained the Lech Walesa situation – how his comments sparked discussions, dialogues and protests from many NEIU community members –  she asked her students to discuss whether or not they would change the name.

“Five of the six groups all said that they would rename the building to ‘Solidarity’ because the Solidarity Movement was very important in Poland,” Toffolo said. “It would still honor the movement (if the name was changed to ‘Solidarity’).”

“Dr. Gibson underestimated how strongly people feel about this issue,” Byard said.

Walesa said gay people have no right to a prominent role in politics and should sit behind parliament, “or even behind the wall,” according to the Associated Press in March 2013.

He argued that gay people “have to understand they are a minority and adapt themselves to smaller things.”

After receiving criticism for his comments, Walesa stressed he “did not feel homophobic,” according to an article published by CNN on March 6, 2013.

Walesa refused to apologize and said, “All I said (was) that minorities, which I respect, should not have the right to impose their views on the majority.”

NEIU’s former president, Sharon Hahs, rejected the unanimous recommendation from the University Advisory Council to rename Lech Walesa Hall, according to Sara Nesis’ article for the Independent published in February 2017.

Director for Strategic Communications Mike Hines said via an email to the Independent, “The email speaks for itself. The president has nothing more to add” on Aug. 23.

Look out for the upcoming issue out on Sept. 11 for updates.

Correction: On the printed issue of the Independent (8/28/18), Dr. Vicki Byard’s name was incorrectly spelled “Vicky.”