Wall of ‘graffiti’ takes on racism

Miki Johnson

Challenging the racist, sexist and anti-Semitic epithets found in residence halls Winter Quarter, members of the Northwestern community had the chance Monday to scrawl messages right back.

“Does my skin color really frighten you?” asked one of the 50 cards on a “graffiti wall” in Norris University Center sponsored by the Office of African-American Student Affairs. The wall was a way to “give people the opportunity to ask questions and make comments” about several Winter Quarter incidents where students were targeted with vandalism, said Carretta Cooke, the office’s director.

Student volunteers encouraged people walking by the table on the ground floor of Norris to write their thoughts about race and ethnicity on red “bricks” — actually note cards — which volunteers then taped to a large paper “wall.”

Although several student groups and members of NU’s administration met earlier this year to discuss the incidents and brainstorm how to avoid further problems, Cooke said she realizes discussion can only accomplish so much.

“You can always talk,” she said. “But sometimes you need a visual associated with it as well.”

Students will have another opportunity to “express themselves” Friday when the wall returns to Norris from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. After this week, Cooke plans to discuss the project’s effectiveness with the group of students who helped. They are considering ideas to laminate the wall or display it at other campus locations, she said.

One student who contributed a brick, Communication junior Mitali Patel, said visibility helped spread the message that hate is not tolerated at NU.

“I hope it’s effective in that people can see how the campus is united against things like this,” Patel said.

Several cards had comments about affirmative action, such as one that read: “We did not get here because of affirmative action … we are just as smart as you are!”

Others addressed racial stereotyping, with comments such as: “I’m not the man. White people can be nice too,” and “Although I look Asian, don’t expect me to be cute, quiet, shy, polite and a pushover.”

After Cooke conceived of the graffiti wall, she contacted students who already had voiced outrage about the Winter Quarter incidents to help with the project.

One of the students Cooke contacted, Weinberg freshman Nelia Jain, said she thought it was “a great idea” to give students a creative outlet for their feelings.

“It’s also something you can do when passing by,” said Jain, political-action and outreach chairwoman for the South Asian Students Alliance. “Students have busy schedules, but this way a lot more people will be impacted by it.”