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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Some University of Notre Dame students, employees and alumni say 19th century murals of Christopher Columbus should be removed from a campus building because they depict Native Americans and blacks in stereotypical submissive poses before white European explorers.

More than 340 students, employees and alumni signed an open letter against the paintings published in the university’s student newspaper, the Observer. The letter says the paintings in an administrative building are equivalent to a Confederate monument, The South Bend Tribune reported .

“(The paintings offer a) highly problematic vision of Western triumphalism, Catholic militarism and an overly romantic notion of American expansion,” the letter said.

The 12 paintings by artist Luigi Gregori have been on display in the campus’ Main Building since 1884.

School spokesman Dennis Brown said the paintings have historic and artistic importance and the university has no plans to remove them. He said there are pamphlets available that explain the murals’ historical context.

John Slattery is a post-doctoral teaching fellow at the university. He approached the Native American Student Association with the idea for the open letter calling for the paintings’ removal.

“The little stand with pamphlets is simply not enough,” Slattery said. “The moral leadership of the university stands on the side of looking back clearly at the past.”

A group of Native American students also called for the removal of the paintings in 1995. University leaders decided not to remove the paintings and instead created the pamphlets.