Newswire photos by Sydney Sanders | The Racism/Stereotypes/Sexism art exhibition on the second floor of GSC was created in hopes of provoking larger social change and accountability.
It has been more than a year since the blackface and dashiki incidents occurred on campus, and after conversations in class and a student forum regarding the events, the volume of the discussion since last November has been quieted. But Greg Rust, director for photography, marketing and communications, is still talking.
Rust collected and curated the Racism/Stereotypes/Sexism exhibit currently installed on the second floor of Gallagher Student Center (GSC) in response to his longtime friendships with members of the Cheyenne Tribe of Montana and a deep commitment to celebrating diversity.
A defining moment for Rust was during the viewing of a baseball game on television surrounded by Cheyenne in their home. Cheyenne ancestors were being mocked by a non-Indian with a painted face wearing a feathered headdress and pounding a drum.
Rust said he became infuriated and made the pledge “to bring awareness as to how culturally insensitive this is.”
Dr. Janice Walker, chief diversity and inclusion officer and vice president for the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion (OIDI), said that the exhibit was a response of students’ lack of awareness to the history of blackface during the racial bias incidents last year.
Walker hopes the exhibit “…will spark conversation that will lead to greater understanding, accountability and social change.”
Associate Director for the Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) Dr. Kyra Shahid facilitated a Courageous Conversation last Wednesday regarding the exhibit. The discussion included students, faculty and staff interested in the way we portray each other.
Shahid referenced a chart displaying the structure and intentions of the meeting.
“Between discussion and dialogue you do not see a line because that is the intended use of this space,” Shahid said. “It is a space where we are going to talk about the surfaces of various assumptions, try to be more informative and reflective and really sort of seek a common ground or a consensus around this conversation as it pertains to how you define and redefine racial justice.”
Sophomore Allison Schroeder, a student employee in the CDI, felt that the large turnout at the discussion was pleasantly surprising but would have liked to have seen more students there.
“I’m glad that a lot of people contributed to the discussion, and there was a variety of people talking during it,” Schroeder said.
In response to the art itself, Schroedeer said, “To be honest, I was not surprised or shocked by the works that were displayed…a lot of the things I thought were interesting I didn’t know a whole lot about, and I want to look into them more and do some more research on them.”
As an artist, Rust chose to present the items in his pieces in period frames and juxtapose them. He aimed to create a space for the viewer to interpret the relationships between the items and to question and explore the items’ societal ramifications.
“Viewing a historical item and seeing how obviously offensive it is now should help us question what current items are offensive and hurtful,” Rust said. “As a Jesuit institution of higher learning, we should be proactive in bringing awareness to social issues so that we can learn, serve, achieve and ultimately change the world together.”
The exhibit struck a personal chord for Schroeder. “I’m from Cleveland I know I’ve seen Chief Wahoo my entire life, and again I just walk past the display (in GSC) with the logo and the underwear and I am just like, ‘when are they just going to get rid of this racist a** logo?’” Schroeder said.
Although she thinks the exhibition was step in the right direction, Schroeder would like to see more.
“I think the placement of the exhibit would be my biggest critique because…the majority of students who are going to view the exhibit are students that are already aware of these things that happen, and we aren’t really surprised,” Schroeder said. “I think this could be placed better where White students would see it more often. I think a good place to put it would be in Smith…Smith is predominantly White male students that pass through there every single day.”
To offer an example of other students’ responses, one anonymous sticky note left near the exhibit reads, “a reflection of who we were, are, and working not to be.”
By: Brittany Wells ~Staff Writer~