Forest Hills Paints Over Diversity Mural

By Jackson Hare, Campus News Editor

Following the cover up of a student-designed and painted mural depicting various identities as a means of celebrating diversity at Nagel Middle School, bouts of student activism have sparked throughout the Forest Hills School District. Nagel Middle School is located in eastern Hamilton County.

Forest Hills district officials explained that this decision was made as part of the district’s rebranding efforts that placed signs throughout the schools. Initially, the mural had been covered by one of these signs, but was later torn down by a student. Soon after, the mural had been completely covered by blue paint.

Photo courtesy of Hollie Johnson

The decision to cover up the mural is marked by controversy largely due to the lack of transparency, according to Forest Hills School Board member and Xavier communications professor Leslie Rasmussen. 

​“There’s been a total lack of transparency, and I’ve shared those thoughts with the superintendent. I told him I think he’s failing at his job right now, and it’s my job to do that and to provide that feedback. Unfortunately, the lack of transparency is only sowing distrust in our community,” Rasmussen said.

​Rasmussen believes this situation mimics trends occurring across the country. “That has been the platform for a particular set of candidates across the United States nationally and locally. (They are) pushing this idea that embracing diversity of thought, of race, religion, anything, is somehow critical race theory and is evil,” she said.

“Unfortunately, what’s happening because of this attack at the national and local level…leaves us to under-prepare our students…When they leave our little suburb of Anderson Township and Newtown, they’re going to encounter a diverse world,” Rasmussen said. 

Within hours of the decision to paint over the mural, as before-and-after pictures of the mural were shared on social media.

“This mural represents the student voice in our district. It was created by students, for students, with a simple message — all students are welcome in our school. Our leaders have chosen to silence that voice, and in so doing, (are) sending a message that all are not welcome,” board candidate Wendy Strickler Biderman said in a Facebook post. 

The controversy has sparked student action across the district. According to one of the four original student artists of the mural, Ava Morsch, the mural represented acceptance of the diversity that exists in the world and in their school.

“We just wanted to do something that would like, kind of bring this to light, but like in a good way where we were like, hey, everyone’s different, but we all should just get along,” Morsch said.

Having designed and painted the mural in eighth grade for one of her classes, Morsch, now a senior at Turpin High School, was disappointed but unsurprised to hear of its removal. However, she remains optimistic.

“I was surprised it didn’t happen sooner, but I was still really sad about it… But also, it did give us the opportunity to talk about it more. People were spreading the news, it was all over social media, so in a way it gave us a platform to spread the love further than we had originally intended, which is the bright side of it,” Morsch said.

Morsch and Rasmussen both shared ways in which the community rallied behind students, creating stickers, pins, yard signs and t-shirts of the mural.

“When I was driving home from picking up my sister, I saw one of those little yard signs in a photo of (the mural)… They tried to cover it up, but they can’t. I think that’s what’s important is that people are still seeing it no matter what. Maybe it’s not on the wall at Nagel anymore, but it’s still all around our township,” Morsch said.

Additionally, Morsch said she has a meeting planned with the Anderson County Parks District to propose potentially painting a new mural in the community.

The controversy surrounding the mural continues to unfold with the community awaiting the next school board meeting on Sept. 20 to discuss the issue. 

“I don’t know what will happen, but I know that I have heard from many students, middle school through high school that have said they would like to come to the meeting and speak during public comments about how much that mural meant to them and what it represented,” Rasmussen noted.