It appears that my alma mater is making news again in 2015. Campus police removed “Whites Only” and “Black Only” signs from Clemens Hall — the 10-story building that houses the majority of the humanities department (and our superior English department) — after 11 phone calls were made starting 1PM on Wednesday, September 16. It was revealed that the signs were part of a student’s art project.
In her statement, the student reiterates that the signs were part of an art project for her “Installation: Urban Space” class, where practices meet theory and ideas are discussed and exchanged.
“The prompt for this project was to create an installation within 5 minutes walking distance from the CFA [Center for the Arts], which addresses ‘time.’ We were welcomed to address time in whichever way we interpret it and however we see fit. In this class, we are learning to finesse our articulation as artists, strengthen our voices, and unapologetically pursue our practice.”
She says this was to express her suffering, to bring light to white privilege, and the racist structures still in place in contemporary society.
“I understand that the ambiguity of the ‘black only’ and ‘white only’ signs are problematic in light of recent events on other campuses where actual acts of hatred, misogyny, and racism occurred. However, my work is something else – an artistic intervention. This was not a social experiment. I do not need to experiment with non-white people’s trauma, nor pain, to know that is there. This was not a joke. I do not need to, and will never joke about my own reality, or anyone else’s, because our reality is grave, it is frightening, and it is one of constant endurance, resilience, and burden.”
She wanted to remind people of historical racism and that even though social reform and civil rights were expanded to include blacks, Asians, and minorities, it continues, even to this day.
“I attended Southeast Missouri State University in the course of my undergraduate career. I was called a ‘n*gger-monkey’ on that campus, I was called a ‘n*gger-bitch.’ I was born and raised on the southeast side of Chicago, where my siblings and friends and I have experienced police intimidation first-hand. My father is 75 years old, and he was born in 1940 in a slave home on a plantation in Greenwood, Mississippi. I have generational struggle and trauma in my family like many non-white people currently living in America. And for those who would reproach me for invoking our pain: it is my belief that silent acknowledgement and endurance of our shared trauma will in no way lessen its effects.”
According to students interviewed by The Spectrum, even white students were offended. Some were upset that campus police didn’t send out an alert because it could have been an “act of terrorism.”
“They sent out an alert about a possible gunman on campus so I don’t know why police couldn’t send out an alert about this… We didn’t know it was an art project, it could’ve been an act of terrorism.”
The university has since released a statement, which can be read here.
PS — Don’t read the comments on WIVB.