Through colorful chalk and meaningful messages, the Student Association for Fair and Equitable Representation used the sidewalks of the Sidney A. Ribeau Plaza to call for diversity and inclusion on campus.
The event was organized by SAFER’s executive board, who President Sam Shoemaker said were instrumental in making Friday’s event a success.
SAFER aimed to promote and continue the conversation of inclusivity on campus and create a safe space for marginalized students by turning the Sidney A. Ribeau Plaza into a “gallery-esque” display of support for students who face discrimination and prejudice, Shoemaker said.
And with the recent racist Facebook comments made by former BGSU groundskeeper Kevin Paridon, a tweet calling for the hanging of Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests against racial injustice and police brutality, ensuring marginalized students have a campus that fights for them is more important now than ever.
“There’s instances of microaggressions and discrimination that marginalized students, faculty and staff face on a daily basis,” Shoemaker said.
With chalk in hand, participants turned taped-off slots on the concrete walkways into canvasses of Black Lives Matter drawings, affirmations of the validity of love regardless of gender identity and sexual orientation, and expressions of body positivity and simple words of encouragement for anyone who needs it.
“It’s something physical that a person can walk through and be reminded that they matter here on campus,” Shoemaker said.
Racism is a rampant issue Shoemaker wanted to focus on at the event, and multiple participants followed through, condemning racial discrimination and violence and showing support for the Black community on campus through their artwork.
Carli Christenson, a sophomore VCT major, drew the Black Lives Matter slogan.
“This isn’t 1910 when the university opened,” she said, referencing more than a century of fighting for racial justice across the country since the university opened. “Times have changed and it’s time for people to be open to inclusion and education on it.”
Christenson attended the event to fight against “the lack of acceptance on campus.”
“There’s still people who don’t respect pronouns, don’t respect (people of color),” she said.
Participants used their chalk to show support for other marginalized groups as well.
BGSU student Zachery Snow drew the phrase “love is love,” adorned by hearts, flowers and flourishes to show how the LGBTQ+ community is “light and bright.”
“Everybody’s love is valid,” he said, as he turned multiple sidewalk squares into an affirmation of love for all people.
According to The Courier, back in July, a Pride street mural in Findlay, Ohio was vandalized with the misspelled phrase “STRAIGT PRIDE.”
Shoemaker was aware of the vandalism, but knew going into their event that defacement of their art was a possibility they would have to account for. But Findlay’s community quickly rallied behind their LGBTQ+ members, and Shoemaker was certain that at least part of the community in Bowling Green would show the same support.
Christina Worcester, a freshman vocal performist, used her chalk to draw plus-size versions of Disney princesses in a show of body positivity.
Disney princesses that young girls look up to have figures that create unhealthy views of their own bodies, she said.
“They exclude people who don’t fit those traditional beauty standards,” she said.
Some art pieces were more general in their message.
Emily Koloszar, a senior social work major, wrote a quote from the podcast “Just Break Up” to show encouragement for students who are experiencing stress, anxiety and depression.
“A lot of stuff is really overwhelming, but you’re doing best which is good enough,” she said.
Community member Chrissy Cano also wrote an encouraging quote, using song lyrics from Pink Floyd’s “Hey You” to send the message of “unity to conquer what’s going on.”
The words, "Together we stand / Divided we fall" were overlaid on background of colorful stripes.
And her sister, Carmen Cano, an employee with the BG Visitors Bureau, drew arms locked together, hand to wrist, around a heart-shaped depiction of Earth.
“If we all unite, we can make the world a more loving place,” she said, expressing a sense of togetherness at a time when divisiveness and polarization across the country are drawing lines between those who discriminate and those who are discriminated against.
With the health and safety restrictions caused by the coronavirus, the event was kept small, with around 10 participants, masked and socially-distanced.
But despite the prioritization of health and safety for everyone involved, the event was still able to be documented. SAFER had their own photographer to capture each art piece, and SAFER Treasurer Seung-A Liz Lee, a graduate student in the department of theater and film, livestreamed the event on SAFER’s Instagram account @saferbgsu.
For each and every participant, the art they drew was of personal importance to them, as well as to the campus and community.
Shoemaker, a transgender-identifying individual with autism, wrote, “Don’t infantilize autistic adults,“ surrounded by the repeated phrase of “We are not a puzzle” on either side, to send a message that adults with autism should be given equal treatment and shown respect.
“So often, people with autism are treated like children, when there’s many of us like myself who are functioning adults,” they said.
Shoemaker aimed to dispel the notion that people with autism don’t have the same maturity as other adults who don’t have autism, and people with autism who are not cisgender and not heterosexual deserve the same care as people with autism who are cisgender and heterosexual, which is often not the case, they said.
Over an hour’s work on Friday created a display of chalk showing support for marginalized people all over campus, and Shoemaker and SAFER were proud of the results.
“I hope that people can come out and see the art. Experience it,” Shoemaker said.
The art stayed until Monday night, when rain removed it off the sidewalks.
Although their work lasted four days, it was documented through pictures and social media, and Shoemaker hopes that conversations about inclusivity and diversity can continue on campus.
SAFER has plans to continue their advocacy for marginalized groups for the rest of the semester and beyond, as well as host events around other social issues as well.
“As an organization SAFER is education-based, with some of our future meetings this semester being on casting bias in the performative arts, an analysis of a play raising awareness for suicide and another event that is TBA that we hope will emanate the same feelings as the chalk art drawing to spread positive messages to marginalized communities on campus,” Shoemaker wrote via email.
They also plan to collaborate with community organizations like BRAVE — Black Rights, Activism, Visibility, Equity — to provide beneficial education to campus staff and students.
And at the core of every collaboration, drawing and event that SAFER does, the organization's goals of promoting acceptance and representation for people from all walks of life, educating those who need and want it and fighting to tear down the barriers of prejudice and oppression remains strong.
“I think there is a definite need to be fighting for diversity and inclusion here at BGSU. And there will continue to be for a long time,” Shoemaker said. “There are systematic forces here at work that impede the progress of minoritized individuals, because the system itself is discriminatory. It isn’t something that can be fixed with a sorry note. It’s something that needs many people working together for their entire lives to achieve change.”
And this fight comes through consistent activism to eliminate bigotry from the individual level to the institutional level.
“Activism has many forms, but to be an activist, to be anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-queerphobic, that’s something that needs commitment. It needs commitment to that activism in people’s everyday lives, like calling out problematic behavior when you see it. While there is a community here on campus that does that, there’s still work needed on the broader campus culture surrounding it.”