Inclusion Project Sparks Controversy on ESU Campus

Photo Credit / Laura Null This poster was torn down, but was later reprinted and put back up. Photo Credit / Laura Null
This poster was torn down, but was later reprinted and put back up.

By Laura Null
Staff Writer

Conversation has sparked ESU’s campus, and people are voicing their opinions after controversial art projects were hung around the campus last week.

The posters were hung throughout the campus, displaying various projects on political, racial/ethical, cultural, gender differences, barriers and multiple other topics and issues people face every day.

The 30 posters are a part of the Inclusion Poster Project that was led by Art and Design Professor David Mazure for Graphic Design 1: ART 220. They also partnered with Philosophy Professor T Storm Heter for his Human Rights and Freedom: PHIL 235 class.

Last Monday night, a public forum was held to discuss these posters and allow for the university to give their explanation of the project.

Students, staff, alumni and faculty answered questions and expressed their feelings towards the art work and universities stance.

Out of the 30 posters, two seemed to be the most talked about around campus and in the open forum.

The one poster featured Martin Luther King, Jr. standing in front of a crowd on the top-half of the poster, with the quote “Do you stand up for your rights…” The second bottom half of the same poster showed former NFL player Colin Kaepernick kneeling with the quote “…or take a knee?”

This poster was vandalized and torn down. It has since been replaced and rehung by the University.

The second poster, created by student Alyssa Gonzales, received the most feedback out of all of the posters.

It was hung above Stroud Hall’s main entrance, with a depiction of Donald J. Trump holding a golf club walking in the opposite direction of a young boy laid dead by the beach, with his head in the water.

A hat with the Puerto Rican flag on it sits beside him, and in the background, there is a tiny island with the Puerto Rican Flag.

Originally, the art works were displayed around campus with no caption or description of the artist’s message. Heter said that this was to allow for people to get their own interpretation from it.

Then, about three to four days later, captions were put up beside the posters, along with the artist’s intention.

ESU’s Provost Jo Bruno put out a public statement about The Inclusion Poster Project, stating that the project was inspired by internationally renowned graphic designer, Mirko Ilic’s and the memorable poster exhibition.

“It intends to communicate the unique perspective of ESU students on the topic of inclusion,” said Bruno.

Professor Heter described that the purpose of this project was, “to give students a platform to express their own views on inclusion.”

He wanted the students to use their art to show what inclusion meant for them.

Heter also described letting the artists pick their own campus space to hang up their projects in spaces that they believed were inclusive.

Posters have received both positive and negative feedback coming from students, staff and facility.

Along with that, tweets were sent directly to East Stroudsburg University’s twitter page saying that the university should not take a stance on political or controversial topics.

Many said that the university’s logo should not have placed in the corner of every poster.

In a tweet last week, the President of ESU’s College Republicans Matthew Deegan said “@PresidentWelsh is this the political position the University is taking? ESU logo top left corner.” Deegan was referring to the Trump poster in Stroud Hall.

President Marcia Welsh responded in another tweet saying, “Logo only means it is an #ESU student project. A lot of conversation about many of the posters, this one included. Not an #ESU position.”

The University replied with an email sent out Friday, stating, “While the posters are marked with the ESU logo, they are not a representation of the University’s position, but rather our commitment to students’ freedom of expression in the context of an intellectual and educational dialogue.”

ESU defended that this was a student project, and not about ESU taking a political stance on either side.

While some professors and students disagreed with the logo on the posters, others supported it.

At the forum some students expressed joy that the campus put their logo on the art work to show that the students are being heard.

Photo Credit / Laura Null Controversial Poster above Stroud Hall.

Photo Credit / Laura Null
Controversial Poster above Stroud Hall.

While, others explained that the project should have been executed or represented another way.

English Professor Allan Benn explained that he is not speaking against inclusion or for censorship, but the project of Trump was too graphic with the boy laying dead in the sand.

Benn described this photo as a “model of one of the saddest photos taken.” Additionally, the boys photo is shown as a comparison of the iconic real-life photo taken titled “The Syrian Boy”, referring back to the Syrian refugee crisis.

Some audience members were upset about the Trump artwork because they had interpreted it as Trump beating the boy and killing him, or having wrongly compared Trump’s presidency to Obama’s.

When students were opposing the art work from the project, student Eli Downie brought up the recent protests held by religious groups that have happened on campus.

“Who are we as a campus? If we won’t let our students express their views, but let racial protestors, who are we as a campus?” said Downie.

Downie also explained comfortability, “We’re in college, and this is the place where we are supposed to feel uncomfortable.”

After some students explained that the image of Trump made them uncomfortable, the artist of the Trump painting revealed herself and spoke out saying, “…life’s uncomfortable.”

“It’s meant to invoke conversation,” said Elijah Brown.

He explained that the college and community needs more openness and more conversation.

Brown said, “You can disagree, but it allows the conversation to be built up.”

“Enjoy the art because art is fundamentally about the discussion,” said Heter.

Additionally, while the biggest controversy was the Trump poster and the university’s logos, some students towards the end mentioned the multiple other inclusion projects on campus.

Amanda Hajzeri described the women warrior project as being empowering.

Other posters included an African warrior and Asian warrior, topics of depression, gender equality, stereotypes, the multiple combinations of families, dyslexia etc.

All the inclusion posters ranged in a wide area of topics that are specifically important to those 30 students / artists.

Some student and faculty have shown their support on campus and on social media for the Inclusion Poster Project, while others have dismissed it or opposed it.

Only time will tell what will become of this ongoing development and the further outcomes of this ESU Inclusion Poster Project.

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