Miami students are accustomed to the tables set up by various campus organizations on the second floor of Armstrong. Most of them are advertising or fundraising, and many students quickly walk by avoiding eye contact, not wanting to be interrupted on their way to and from class.
On Tuesday, one table served a different purpose: to let students express their most personal identity.
As part of Miami’s Diversity Week, the Diversity Affairs Council hosted the “I Am Diversity” event to help students celebrate what makes them unique. Sitting at a table set with coffee and hot chocolate, programming directors Morgan Neal and Blessing Famule encouraged anyone who walked by to contribute words or a drawing to represent their idea of what makes them diverse.
“Something I thought was necessary was a conversation about diversity but not just diversity in terms of what each individual’s definition of diversity is,” said Neal. “Everyone has different significance in regards to diversity.”
The goal of the event was to get as many submissions as possible to create a wall of words and drawings which will be displayed to represent the many ways students see themselves as diverse.
All students were encouraged to participate, not just minority students. Neal and Famule said some students felt they could not participate because they were in the majority and did not feel they contributed to diversity.
“We get caught up in this norm of ‘what is diversity’ and we don’t think that we can contribute as part of a society, and that becomes exclusionary and othering,” said Neal. “If we all recognize that we have special things, we see the diversity of our diversity.”
Neal’s idea for the diversity wall was inspired by a trip to Auschwitz she took when she studied abroad in Europe in the fall of 2016. There, Neal saw a wall of photographs that were found among the discarded luggage and compiled to create a display with descriptions of each picture.
The original idea was for students to submit photographs of things they thought represented their personal diversity. For logistical reasons, Neal and the rest of the planning team decided that having students illustrate their own pictures would be a more practical way for them to express themselves.
“Art is undefined which makes it so cool,” Neal said. “The viewer decides what it means, which is kind of its own art.”
Neal and Famule cut roughly 1000 pieces of paper for students to create their submissions, and by 2 p.m. on event day they were already a quarter of the way through them. The turnout was exactly what the two were hoping for, and they were excited by how many students were taking part in the activity.
“Everyone has a voice. Everyone is unique. There will literally never be two persons who are identical and the same,” said Famule. “You have your own identity. Don’t be afraid to share that. Everyone is different. Be proud of your personal identity no matter what it is”
Students took unique approaches to their submissions, expressing pride in things such as their sexuality, nationality or religion. One submission expressed all three, reading, “Queer, Filipino, Christian.” Another contained writing in Italian along with a drawing of the Italian flag to demonstrate the student’s pride in their heritage.
The final wall was displayed at Friday’s “We Are Diversity” event in McGuffey Hall. The event was meant to celebrate the conclusion of Diversity Week with crafts, music, food and a performance by local band The Wrong Crowd.
The permanent location of the diversity wall is still being determined in order to comply with Armstrong’s rules, but Neal is hoping it will be hung in the Diversity Affairs Council’s office window.
“What I really like about this display is the role or importance of art in self-expression and how powerful it is that people can communicate what their identity is, and people can perceive them through viewing it,” said Neal. “It’s about people being able to express their identities.”