Imagine Otherwise: About a safe and inclusive campus
May 28, 2010
By Dave Jones
In the wake of recent acts of intolerance on campus, Nicole Storrow asked her fellow students, as well as staff and faculty: “If UC Davis were a safe and inclusive space, what would that look and feel like?”
Storrow set out index cards and collection boxes in several locations — at the Cross Cultural Center; the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center; the Women’s Resources and Research Center; Counseling and Psychological Services; and the Memorial Union — then gathered the responses, about 100 in all, and tacked them to a wall in the ArtLounge, on the second floor of the Memorial Union.
The 5-inch-by-8-inch cards, featuring words and drawings — all contributed anonymously — comprise an exhibition titled Imagine Otherwise, scheduled to be on display through June 5.
The title comes from New York University’s Lisa Duggan’s forum piece in the March 2009 issue of The Nation. The professor of social and cultural analysis wrote: “If we are to build a new world out of the ashes of the old, we need to imagine and organize otherwise in the most expansive and inclusive ways.”
By asking people to imagine otherwise, Storrow said, “we found that there are a lot of simple ways that the campus could be safer.”
Consider these examples from the Imagine Otherwise exhibition:
• “Free hugs and honest conversations.”
• “Gender-neutral restrooms.”
• “All instructors asking our pronouns the first day of class.”
• “Peace. Love. Unity. Respect.”
Storrow, a third-year psychology major, said her inspiration for Imagine Otherwise came from a discussion of Duggan’s forum piece. After that discussion, in a queer studies class, Storrow put the concept to work in her role as campus climate intern at the Cross Cultural Center, mulling ways to “build more inclusive spaces at UC Davis.”
“We’re trying to figure out different ways to address the issue, so that people can still feel like UC Davis is a safe place in some sense” — even after this spring’s incidents of swastika displays around campus, and a spray-paint attack on the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center.
She is not alone in tackling this issue. More than 400 people discussed it at a town hall meeting in March, hundreds more turned out to hear speakers talk about building a more tolerant society and campus, representatives of various campus constituiencies reaffirmed the Principles of Community, and Chancellor Linda Katehi allocated an additional $230,000 annually to the LGBTRC, the Black Student Union, and the Campus Council on Community and Diversity, for program support and mentorship programs.
The swastikas and graffiti attack were not isolated incidents, Storrow emphasized.
“There are issues that people face daily, that don’t necessarily involve vandalism,” she said. “There are individuals who are experiencing distress daily.”
Asking people to “imagine otherwise” is one thing, Storrow said. “But then we need to give these campus voices an outlet.
And she has done that with the exhibition where you will see cards filled with imaginings like these:
• “It would feel like I was walking around naked, yet feeling like I had no one staring at me, nor I at them. A safe space here would be like that sense of happiness and comfort of myself and those around me.”
• “I would feel as if I am perceived by my own potential and character, not by the color of my skin. Thank you!”
• “It would not be like Arizona in any way/shape/form. People of color would not fear prejudice. Queer people could hold hands and be together freely.”
• “A safe campus is an inclusive campus where all are welcomed. Note that safety (security) does not come from excluding people, but from including people. (A paper could be written on this.) P.S. Be wary of shutting down ‘free speech’ — lest our own voices become outlawed.”
• “Spread the love, stop the hate.”
• “A safe campus would mean being carefree, walking fearless, speaking how I speak, being my whole self.”
• “I would feel calm, peaceful. At ease. Comfortable in my own skin. All cultures, ethnicities and people from all walks of life would be celebrated. People would look at each other with smiles on their faces in a greeting, instead of looking at someone in fear or hatred. … A campus full of love!”
• “If UC Davis were a truly safe and inclusive space, I would not be intimidated from speaking up when my boss uses racial or gender stereotypes.”
• “It would look and feel like a rainbow: All colors, classes and orientations of people together in unity making UC Davis shine. Only then would it become a beautiful place to live and study — not only on the surface but intricately — improving the university’s reputation, creating an atmosphere that would be the pot of gold in the entire UC system. … We can hope, can’t we?”
Johnathen Duran, Chicano-Latino community intern at the Cross Cultural Center, is working on another art project focused on improving the campus climate.
Duran, a senior majoring in community and regional development, has launched a graffiti art mural on the temporary fence around the Coffee House’s temporary kitchen outside the Memorial Union.
As of today (May 28), the mural comprises a title — “A UC Davis Community Mural" — and an invitation to participate, by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
When the Coffee House renovation is done, and the temporary kitchen goes away, Duran’s art will live on — when the fence is moved to the construction site of the new Student Community Center, according to an article in The California Aggie.
On the Net
Earlier coverage: "'Our community is at risk' — Campus confronts prejudice, budget" (March 5, 2010)
Earlier coverage: "Civility at heart of healthy democracy" (April 9, 2010), with video of Jim Leach's talk, "Civility in a Fractured Society"
Earlier coverage: "Our values soar — Campus reaffirms Principles of Community, hands out awards" (April 23, 2010)
Earlier coverage: "Museum of Tolerance sparks outrage, inspiration" (April 29, 2010)
Video: “A Conversation with Tim Wise: Color Blindness? Whiteness?” (May 5, 2010)
Chancellor calls for action plan against hate (May 5, 2010)
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