Art mural, conversations, classes: Students offer advice on how to deal with racism on campus

By Lena O’Donnell
Visual Editor

I am white. I asked students of color on campus what they thought the school could do to better to approach racism and hate on this campus. I have also been thinking about a community mural, and asked students if it was something that could be an option for inclusion. But like I wanted to know whether it would be something for people to consider or just another idea pitched by a white person who thinks they can help? Here were some of their answers:

Diego Calderon ‘20 has seen how racism has impacted not only himself but other students on campus. “These stickers have been appearing since I was a freshman, and I am a senior now. So…” Curious about where this statement led I then asked what sort of approach the school should take to address these issues. “I think this is a conversation for white people to have amongst themselves about what they have to do to stop this type of ignorance.” When racism comes up in a conversation Calderon sees that things instantly get tense “Natural conversation and an actual dialogue does have to happen, not only for the St Mike’s community but probably for the surrounding communities as well.”

I pitched the idea of a community mural to Calderon, “What is a mural gonna do?” University of Vermont contains a beautiful mural in their Mosaic center on campus. Now alumni and other members of the UVM community of all colors are represented. When I visited awhile ago I asked students there what they thought, I heard nothing but positive feedback about the mural. “Art and music, and those types of outlets are always universal. They can connect humans,”Calderon said.

In Sebastian Morales’ ‘21 first year on campus he experienced racist, white supremacy posters put up around our campus. Our peers did not feel safe on campus at that time maybe even now they do not. Morales admired the way the school addressed it then “We had like a mini convocation thing and the Edmundites and the administration came together.” He said the message that came across during this convocation was, “We are not standing with this [racism and discrimination], we are standing with you guys.”

Morales liked the idea of a community art project. “I think a mural is a great idea.” As a Frida Kahlo enthusiast, he has seen the impact that art can have on a
person. “I think the more we fill our campus with art the better, bottom line.”

When the school addressed the issue campus-wide they set up a forum for students, faculty and staff members to discuss what had happened. Some few people showed up because it was on Friday, the final day before fall break. I was not able to make it, other students had already left. “I think that the school having meetings to discuss, for example, inappropriate stickers being posted on campus, is a good way to allow students to let their voices be heard,” said Felicity Rodriguez ‘22. “They [administration] need to reassure the students on campus that their safety is the school’s number one priority”she said. A response to the first meeting administration said “As we continue to build a culture of inclusion, we invite and encourage you to attend a second meeting on Wednesday, October 16 from 2:45-4:15 p.m. in the
Roy Room (3rd Floor, Dion Student Center) so that we can work together in listening and learning.”

Rodriguez said that a mural could help promote a sense of community and inclusion on campus and allow people who normally do not feel that they are recognized on campus know that they are being acknowledged and represented in some shape or form.”

Even though this is only her second year here Christelle Celestin ‘22 has still seen how the school approaches issues on campus. “I think instead of having pointless conversations over and over again the school needs to actually make actions against these issues” she said. She acknowledges the approaches of a physical experience can have on an individual. “The school needs to have the kids actually go out and meet people different from them. It’s one thing to talk but it’s another to actually try to get students to experience what it’s like to be different.” On campus we have options: attending International Coffee Hour on Wednesday afternoons in St Eddie’s lounge, opting for international housing, taking a classes like Race, Gender, and Ethnicity in Media that address
injustices and how they impact our everyday life. Or visit the Center for Multicultural Affairs and Services (CMAS) which you can find on the second floor of Alliot. On November 19 there will be the annual International Festival bringing together different people and their cultures with food, music, and dance.

We need individuals, not just students but faculty and staff too, to take responsibility for learning about other cultures, socio-economic backgrounds, races and even the history behind why they exist,” said Kayla Erb ‘22. “Without awareness of what the problem is and educated people to fix it, Saint Michael’s as a campus cannot move forward in creating a comfortable campus for ALL people living on it. An email will not suffice in making a home to anxiety-ridden students of color who are already uneasy about the predominantly white campus they reside on.” She also questioned whether a mural would be enough to make a change.

Another question to consider is where? Last year the school conducted a plan to paint a walkway with rainbow stripes to represent the LGBTQIA+ community. When it actually went into action it was placed in a small area of the sidewalk near the Bergeron Wellness Center. As someone who is a part of this community I thought it did nothing to promote inclusion, especially because it was not centralized on campus. I would hope that if this works we could get it on campus, where it can be seen and recognized.

When I first thought of this idea it stemmed from the Vermont Story Lab Summit that I attended just a few weeks ago. I met Jill Badolato, a “creative community builder.” She has helped get a numerous of art projects created all over Burlington and other areas in Vermont. Her passion for building a strong community was what got me to wondering if this could be something that could help us. Badolato also found ways to save money by recycling paints and other resources so that it would not break her budget. I will do further research with her to hopefully reach out to artists to get an idea financially of what we would be getting at.

What are your thoughts of the mural idea? How do you think the school should have addressed the issue? There will be a survey posted on our website, Let’s keep the conversation going so maybe it’ll lead to change. Staff, faculty, students and anyone else who has a word to say let us know what YOU think. It’s valid.