Campus Free Speech

Did a Student Actually Complain That This Harry Potter Mural Was Racist, Sexist, and Ableist?

University of Wisconsin-La Crosse has a Hate Response Team


Matthew Lewis

… I can't tell.

A student at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse filed a formal complaint with the campus's "Hate Response Team" alleging that a popular mural in one of the dormitories inappropriately depicts "white power, man power, cis power, able power, and class power."

The triggering work of art depicts "before" and "after" versions of Harry Potter character Neville Longbottom, who was portrayed by actor Matthew Lewis in the films. The implication is that students enter the dormitory as the younger, awkward-looking Neville/Lewis, and exit the dormitory as the older, quite handsome Neville/Lewis. It's a joke, of sorts.

But I suppose someone, somewhere, was bound to find it offensive. According to Heat Street, which obtained a copy of the unnamed student's complaint:

The depiction of this metamorphosis "represents our ideal society and everything I am trying to fight against," wrote the offended student, whose name is redacted. "It represents white power. Man power. Cis power. Able power. Class power. ECT [sic] ect. I am angry that I know the people who put this mural up, and I am anger [sic] because I know the people who let this mural be put up. Like I said earlier, maybe I am being a little sensitive, but it is how I feel. This represents, to me, our society, and I do not want it up on this wall. Why do we need a BEFORE and AFTER?"

The complaint, unearthed by a Heat Street records request for reports of bias on UW-La Crosse's campus, was filed in April. We confirmed the mural remains up, despite the student's complaint. By deadline, neither of the students who painted Neville Longbottom's poster had responded to Heat Street's inquiry.

It doesn't get much more ridiculous than that. Of course, the complaint might be fake—the student did not request a follow-up discussion with the university. Indeed, one member of the Hate Response Team seemed skeptical, according to Heat Street:

"Maybe 1,000 people could look at it and say it's fake, they're trying to be funny, but I always try to reach out," [Amanda] Goodenough says. "Maybe it would be an opportunity to have a conversation. That's what we need more of."

National Review's Katherine Timpf took the complaint at face value and mercilessly mocked it.

I'm less sure it's real, though it certainly could be. I've seen complaints that were at least this crazy before.

Perhaps that's the most worrisome takeaway: in our current age of campus hyper-offendedness, it's impossible to tell the genuinely traumatized apart from the trolls. Maybe that should make the university wonder whether it has defined "hate incidents" a little too subjectively.