Campus News

UB to support #SpiritDay with public art project

#SpiritDay lawn sign art project.

Participants in UB's observance of #SpiritDay can use a template to make a lawn sign promoting their wishes for freedom.

By SUE WUETCHER

Published October 12, 2018

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“It’s one thing to say I stand with you in solidarity; it’s another thing to declare it with a field of signs. ”
Despina Stratigakos, vice provost for inclusive excellence

Freedom of speech. Freedom of thinking. Freedom from hate.

Members of the UB community can add their own wishes for freedom as part of a public art project taking place on Oct. 18 — #SpiritDay — on the North Campus.

Queer activist, artist and UB alumnus Dana Tyrrell will lead the project, partnering with the national artists group For Freedoms, which fosters civic discussions through public art, to create a huge display of lawn signs on the Student Union Field between the Commons and the Center for the Arts.

Faculty, staff and students can stop by the lobby of the Student Union from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. to create their own “freedom” signs from a template provided by For Freedoms. Pizza will be available at noon and Tyrrell will speak.

The event is sponsored by the Office of Inclusive Excellence, the Intercultural and Diversity Center, the LGBTQ Faculty and Staff Association, and LGBTQ student organizations.

It’s taking place on #SpiritDay, a nation-wide day to wear purple and speak out against LGBTQ bullying and support LGBTQ youth, who disproportionately face bullying and harassment because of their identities.

Lawn sign project in Atlanta.

A For Freedoms public art project in Atlanta.

“We celebrate #SpiritDay with the For Freedoms project to emphasize the power of speaking your values in our collective efforts to build a community at UB where we respect and care for each other,” says Despina Stratigakos, vice provost for inclusive excellence.

Why does it matter?

Stratigakos, noting Oct. 12 marks the 20th anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard, the University of Wyoming student whose murder led to passage of national hate crime legislation, points to some sobering statistics provided by GLAAD and obtained from the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network’s (GLSEN) 2015 National School Climate Survey:

  • 85.2 percent of LGBTQ students report being verbally harassed.
  • 63.5 percent of LGBTQ students report hearing homophobic remarks from teachers and/or school staff because of their gender expression.
  • 57.6 percent of LGBTQ students did not report experiences of bullying because they doubted an intervention.
  • 57.6 percent of LGBTQ students feel unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation.
  • 48.6 percent of LGBTQ students have experienced cyberbullying.
  • 63.5 percent of LGBTQ students who did report an incident said that school staff did nothing in response or told the student to ignore it.

“Public art projects bring us together in unique ways, using creativity and self-expression as a vehicle to know ourselves and others,” Stratigakos says. “They also deliver a visual punch. It’s one thing to say I stand with you in solidarity; it’s another thing to declare it with a field of signs.”

Benjamin Fabian, assistant director for student support in the Office of Student Conduct and Advocacy, and a member of the LGBTQ Faculty and Staff Association, points out that 2019 will mark the 50th anniversary of the New York City Stonewall Inn riots, which are regarded as the spark for the modern-day LGBTQ civil rights movement. 

“Our society has made great progress over the last 50 years,” Fabian says, “but we also have a new obligation to LGBTQ youth who are celebrating gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation far earlier than the generations that came before them. 

“We are all responsible for creating communities for these young people that are free from bullying, discrimination and hate.”