Watson Chronicle


Watson College News

WCE Response to Charlottesville: Open Forums, Mural Art Projects

Friday, September 08, 2017

Following an outbreak of violence in Charlottesville, VA, over the weekend of Aug. 11, UNCW Chancellor Jose V. Sartarelli issued a public message “condemning these acts and searching for a peaceful response to an unthinkable situation.” Dean Van Dempsey also authored a letter to faculty and staff in the Watson College.

“In both the grand and the most intimate ways, I know we believe – as we are reminded by one of our greatest southerners – that the moral arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice. We believe it and know it even when the evidence of the day does not make it seem so,” Dempsey wrote. “And it does not bend by accident. It requires that we call out hate as hate. In our university and college community, no claims to another space, no presumed or important principle suggests otherwise. Not intellectual license, not academic freedom, not professional philosophy. Those lines cannot be blurred and exploited. Hate is hate. Ignorance is ignorance, and destruction is destruction. We can hold firm to the principals of the academy, and call it out without compromising those principles.”

As the semester got underway, Watson College faculty initiated open discussions and art projects designed to give campus and community members’ forums and creative outlets to explore issues related to race, racism, diversity, tolerance and social justice.

Radical Love Murals

Daisy Barreto, Donna DeGennaro, Marta Sánchez, Dana Stachowiak and Candace Thompson introduced a community engagement art project on Aug. 25 with an event in the atrium of the Education Building titled “A Radical Love Artmaking: To Charlottesville, with Love.”

Over the course of two weeks, more than 250 individuals from the college and across campus participated in the creation of a mural that now hangs in UNCW’s Warwick Center. Six other murals were created involving the campus community and over 70 off-campus students at neighboring K-12 schools and after school programs. Three of the murals will find a permanent home at Charlottesville High School later this year.

“We wanted to offer a space for students to share thoughts and feelings regarding Charlottesville,” Sánchez said. “Art is a great modality to do that. It’s a way to bring beauty and creativity to something that’s dark and destructive.”

Sánchez said faculty felt compelled to act because of the dynamic we now live in. “An era of bigotry is being ushered in,” she said. “Educators are uniquely positioned to recognize that and to act. Again we have to stand against bigotry and again we have to find a voice. Action rises to a moment, but rather than being seen as reactionary, it becomes part of our mission, a part of what we do.”

Since the project began, faculty, staff and campus colleagues have created a second large mural and faculty members have initiated smaller mural projects at D.C. Virgo Preparatory Academy, Snipes Academy of Arts & Design, with students enrolled in New Hanover County Schools’ Transition Program for Young Adults and with several after school programs in the area.

“Radical Love is a notion that is grounded in the commitment that teaching is an act of love,” Thompson said in an interview with WWAY. “So, we use this creative and critical thinking process to get young people, our students, faculty, staff, kids in the schools thinking about the world they want to create.”

The Radical Love mural art project is “organic and evolving,” Thompson said. Thompson and her colleagues hope to offer a Radical Love lecture series and additional student-centered experiences in the classroom and the community in the future.

Media Coverage of the Project

StarNews Sept. 12, UNCW sends ‘Radical Love’ Mural to Charlottesville

WWAY, Sept. 20, Extraordinary People: The Radical Love Mural Project

Open Forums

On Aug. 18 the Watson College held an open meeting to give faculty and staff a forum to share thoughts, feelings and ideas surrounding the events in Charlottesville. Sánchez and EEMLS chair Kathy Fox facilitated the conversation.

On Sept. 14, James DeVita and Jaime Russell facilitated a graduate discussion on issues related to race, racism and white privilege in higher education. DeVita is assistant professor of higher education at the Watson College and Russell is UNCW’s director of Student Leadership and Engagement.

Thirty-five students attended the event, including eight enrolled in EDL 558, a higher education class taught by DeVita titled “Social Justice Topics in Education” and two enrolled in a similar course in UNCW’s School of Social Work. Members of the Black Graduate and Student Professional Organization, a newly formed organization at UNCW, also attended and provided support for the event.

To start, students were asked to consider the effectiveness of various leaders’ responses to the events in Charlottesville. They also explored answers to the question, what is higher education’s responsibility to address issues of race, racism and white privilege that became prevalent following these events?

Participants agreed that leaders, including leaders in higher education have a responsibility to address these issues, and that specific responses were the most effective, DeVita said. “There was strong consensus that calling out hate groups and naming what you see is more effective than issuing ambiguous statements about topics of diversity and tolerance. The students felt the more ambiguous statements result in confusion and cause these issues to fester.”

Charlottesville lit a spark because of the timing and because the events intersect with so many issues, DeVita said. The events occurred on a college campus in mid-August just as millions of students were returning to campuses across the nation, historians have been drawn into a debate over monuments, and we live in a deeply polarized nation, he said.

Like Sánchez, DeVita believes educators are positioned to facilitate discussions on complex issues that can help effect positive change. At the forum, discussion was organized as racial/ethnic caucus groups that provided space for students of color to discuss their experiences with racism, and white students with the space to engage in conversations about white privilege. The groups then came together to discuss what actions could help bring about change. They agreed that creating additional opportunities for open dialogue would be a great place to start.

Many students have had virtually no exposure to discussions of social justice issues that include race and racism, but are receptive to dialogue when presented the opportunity, DeVita said. He hopes to convene additional forums in the future that engage broader audiences across campus, and include students at the undergraduate level.