Two years ago, the Inclusion Poster Project sparked controversy across campus and attracted national media attention. This year, Professor T. Storm Heter and David Mazure’s students are bringing the project back.
According to Mazure, students create posters that focus on inclusion as it relates to campus and is designed to encourage student expression, free speech, and dialogue. The project combines Heter’s Race, Gender and Culture course with Mazure’s Graphic Design course.
“The 2017 project was very successful in generating community dialogue,” Heter said. “One thing we learned is that provocative posters stir up feelings. We hastily organized a community dialogue session after there was a critical backlash. This year, we will set up spaces for dialogue in advance of installing the posters.”
According to PA Homepage, students across campus held mixed opinions on the piece. Some students felt that the poster was a way to initiate conversation, while others thought it was done in poor taste.
One of the posters that gained a lot of media attention in 2017 depicted President Donald Trump playing golf beside a dead Puerto Rican child washed up on the shoreline. The poster was made to illiterate Trump’s treatment of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.
One of the main questions students are asked to consider is whether or not ESU is an institutionally white campus.
“Institutional whiteness refers to the idea that a campus may be saturated with subtle cues about who belongs there and who doesn’t,” Heter said. “We discussed the effects of seeing portraits and posters depicting the majority culture. We also discussed how it can be tokenizing to place non-white faces prominently across campus.”
Dr. Heter believes that the controversy that occurred in 2017 was in part a reaction to talking openly about whiteness at ESU. Heter is a scholar and philosopher who travels across the country and to other parts of the world to discuss these topics.
“I was not fully prepared for the negative reaction that happened when I combined my critical approach to whiteness with the poster project,” Heter said. “Without going into detail, I can say that I was the target of hateful speech and physical threats.”
This year, the Inclusion Poster Project will be taking an approach specific to places on campus that students feel may not be as inclusive as others.
Through their designs, students are encouraged to express their personal feelings of exclusion or inclusion to better understand how our campus can grow.
According to Dr. Heter, many students said they feel uncomfortable walking through certain parts of campus, some even revealing that they would avoid certain areas altogether to avoid feeling stared at or objectified.
The poster project is an opportunity for students to reflect on their own experiences and serves as a way to start a conversation to initiate change.
“The student participants in the poster project are taking a real risk by stating controversial opinions in this divisive political environment of ours,” Heter said. “This year’s poster project is sure to stir up controversy: that’s what good art does.”
Dr. Heter and Professor Mazure revealed that the project was inspired by both Mirko Illic, a Bosnian comics artist who created 24 posters depicting topics of tolerance, and Sara Ahmed, a scholar of feminism and queer theory.
Together, they hope that this year’s project will be free of hostile exchanges and full of fruitful ones.
“When other students speak their mind, other students listen,” Mazure said. “This sparks a change and initiates conversation. I think any college campus is a great place for students to speak their minds.”
The Inclusion Poster Project will be installed across campus sometime after Thanksgiving break.
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