This is a story about one thing that turns out to be about another thing. Get comfortable. This takes a bit to sort out.

The story begins in Vermont, known for its long snow seasons and great skiing, not for the Underground Railroad. But the state has a historic role with fugitive slaves, and two murals depicting this history, painted for the Vermont Law School in 1993, are now being covered over in response to student complaints.

Reader alert

Before continuing with this story, it helps to know how it ends. The law school flap over the murals and Netflix’s new series “The Chair” have a lot in common.

Hint: student unrest. Hold that thought.

The law student's objection to the mural is the cartoon-like description of African Americans in scenes of slave auctions, forced labor, and punishment. The artist, Sam Kerson, is suing the school claiming that covering his work violates the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990, which protects the art from “intentional distortion, mutilation, or other modification.” The school’s lawyer argues that the Artists Rights Act doesn’t say art must remain viewable. (Leave it to a law school lawyer to find a loophole in a law).

Student unrest

None of that, however, is the crux of the story. After all, public art is such a frequent subject of controversy, that it has turned colorless.

Kerson contends that the school’s defense about student complaints is a “smoke-screen.” I’d argue the opposite. Unrest among young adults is very much the issue. And it’s the one that ties to the Netflix show. (More about that in a moment).

You can see the student's state of mind in an email from one of the law school students, Jameson Davis, writing that he was “shocked” that the law school had a mural showing slavery ‘in this insensitive and demoralizing way.” Mind you, the mural has been on the school walls since 1993.

Only now is there a petition signed by a coalition of people of color, as well as White allies calling for its removal. Why now?

Age of protest

This is the age of protest but hiked up, and it’s no wonder. The world is on fire and young adults, more sensitive to sexism and racism than previous generations were, have different priorities such as the collapsing environment and their crushing college loan debt.

You can see the same anxieties manifested in Netflix’s series “The Chair,” which looks at student unrest at a fictional university. While the show begins with the appointment of a woman of color as chairperson of an English department, problems arising from that are not the main event. Free speech on campus is.

Probably the most telling line in the series is the English department chairperson (played beautifully by Sandra Oh), attempting to make her department of aging professors more tolerant of their student's protests: “Why should they trust us?” The world is burning and we’re sitting here worried about our endowment.”

Substitute any word you want for endowments. We’re fiddling with political wars, gender wars, and race wars while our world burns. It’s no surprise that the Gen Z generation has little patience with sexism and racism. They’re irrelevant in a fire.