Published March 2, 2021
Exhibits designed to comfort students and expand understanding of what it means to be Black in America are now on display in Silverman Library and in the Student Union.
The Black Lives Matter Poster Project features framed posters of UB students and faculty, with the individuals’ thoughts on social justice, social equality and the BLM movement superimposed on their portraits.
The exhibits, located on the third floor of Silverman and outside the office of Student Engagement in 150 Student Union, were developed through a partnership between Campus Living, the Intercultural and Diversity Center, and Student Life’s Social Justice Advisory Committee.
The project is the brainchild of Mary Clare Fahey, assistant director for residential inclusion in Campus Living, who wanted to ensure that Black students felt supported by their university when they returned to campus last fall after a summer of protests against police brutality and demands for racial equity nationwide in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
Fahey initially wanted to hang Black Lives Matter posters in the residence halls, but other administrators encouraged her to take her plans a step further. With support from Sharon Mitchell, director of counseling services and a member of President Satish K. Tripathi’s Advisory Council on Race, Fahey moved forward with the more expansive poster project.
After Tripathi highlighted the poster project in his State of the University address on Oct. 16, Evviva Weinraub Lajoie, vice provost for university libraries, contacted Fahey to see if the libraries could be involved in the project.
A large BLM poster exhibit is now on display in the center of the third floor in Silverman, with a smaller-scale display outside the office of Student Engagement in the Student Union, near the hallway connecting the union with Knox Hall. Both are on view through the fall 2021 semester.
Fahey remembers the day she decided she wanted to create something to show support for Black students returning to UB.
“I was watching the news, and my heart was truly broken for the Black people marching in the streets as people threw things at them, and all they wanted was what I’ve got,” Fahey recalls. “All they wanted was justice. All they wanted was people to be given the benefit of the doubt before they get shot in the back.”
The Black Lives Matter movement hits particularly close to home for Fahey: Some of her family members are multiracial.
Fahey’s colleague in Student Life, Kevin Ahuna, director of the Intercultural and Diversity Center, had a similar mindset: He also wanted students to feel comfortable coming back to UB for the fall semester.
“Given the summer of activism and the national conversation, I thought it was a great idea to use that momentum to show our support, specifically for Black students,” says Ahuna, who helped arrange for the exhibit in the Student Union.
Both exhibits consist of posters of UB students and faculty members, with a short quote in bold white lettering superimposed over their darkened portraits. Words like “fear,” “life” and “killed” have been enlarged and printed in a more stylistic font.
“I find the student words, in particular, very powerful,” Ahuna says.
He and Fahey encourage members of the UB community who may not understand the magnitude of the BLM movement to take a step back and embrace the exhibit, and reflect on the similarities they share with their peers.
“I want students to know they are more alike than they know,” says Fahey. “Although it may not be in the news every day, other students, too, are having struggles, and other students are with you, and they care about you and know that you care about them.”
Fahey says would like to partner on similar projects with other organizations, such as the new Indigenous Studies Program and the LGBTQ Faculty and Staff Association, to help those who struggle have their voices heard.
“I want people to know that there are people here at UB — Black people, white people, brown people — that are here for them, that love them, that really do believe they matter with all their heart,” she says.
The campaign is well done. I hope it supports students and promotes inclusion in the coming months!
This makes me proud to be part of UB.