Around 30 people gathered in The Women’s Center at 7 p.m. Oct. 22, many wearing red shirts that said “Stop The Hate” in all capital letters. Through poetry, short stories and letters, performers shared their experiences in dealing with issues such as racism, sexism, homophobia and sexual violence.
“If These Walls Could Talk” is an annual event that allows students to express their stories through art. It followed Four Front Council’s Hate Wall displayed in Speakers Circle from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Four Front, a council that represents marginalized students, hosted the event with help from the Missouri Students Association and SPEAK Community Theatre, an organization that encourages youth to use creative arts toward social change.
The simple construction from cardboard boxes and paper contrasted with the strong language that covered the Hate Wall. Written in large red letters at the top, “Words We Never Want to Hear Again Our Campus” encouraged students to write offensive words and phrases on the Wall to spread awareness of discriminatory and disabling comments heard on MU’s campus.
The Hate Wall was then moved to the Women’s Center for “If These Walls Could Talk” to create a more intimate atmosphere between performers and audience members, co-chairwoman of Four Front Alanna Diggs said.
Even though she has written poems and other pieces of work since high school, senior Young Kwon admitted on stage that this was one of the first times she had shared her writing in a public setting.
Kwon said that she chose to share her poem for the event because of the empowerment she felt after participating in Community 360, an overnight retreat that fosters leadership development.
In her poem entitled, “I Am,” Kwon touched on her past experiences as an Asian American woman. After the event, she gave an example of a particular time when she faced discrimination of MU’s campus.
“I was walking down the street and it was a catcall but it was very racialized,” Kwon said. “Someone was calling me out to make him Chinese food.”
Graduate Joel Dalton read an emotional letter he wrote to his 16-year-old self explaining what he wished he knew at that age.
In his letter, he touched on the pressures he faced from society and how he struggled with self-acceptance even into his college years.
“Whether it was a good experience or a bad experience, (my past) led me to this point where I am now,” Dalton said. “I love who I am now, I love my body, I love my identities and I want to accept that space rather than shy away from it.”
Finger snapping, cheers and vocal and physical agreement encouraged performers to express themselves without judgment.
“This felt like a safe space but also a space that could handle the material in (the letter),” Dalton said.
Diggs added that while there has been a lot of discussion about race relations between black and white students recently on campus, there are many identities that seem to be ignored.
“I know a lot of identities, like Asian identities and Native-Americans are invisible to us on campus don’t get talked about,” Diggs said. “So where is their position in race relations? It’s not race relations if we’re not recognizing that all races need to be included in the discussion.”
In his letter, Dalton described the importance of gender and intersectionality to his younger self. He later explained how he feels society looks at gender as a very black-and-white issue, which therefore excludes a group of people.
“Looking at gender anthropologically-speaking, gender is fluid,” Dalton said. “There’s infinite options for gender and gender expression. There’s no right way to be, and a lot of times, if you’re a man, you have to embrace masculinity. If you’re a woman, you have to embrace femininity. But I identify as a feminine man, and as hard femme, and I think that when we’re talking about gender specifically, looking past the binary and realizing that society doesn’t teach us what is actually there.”
MSA presidential candidate Haden Gomez and his vice presidential candidate Chris Hanner came in support of minority students and to learn more about issues on campus.
Gomez shared his goals for diversity and inclusion if he wins the MSA election.
“What we have specifically lined up that we’d do starting on day one is starting these forums and discussions,” Gomez said. “Not only with the Wellness Resource Center, the RSVP Center, the Women’s Center and not only for students involved with those organizations, but outside students to come and talk to them as well to get an idea of these marginalized students here on campus, what they’ve actually gone through, the experiences they’ve had here on campus.”
After the performances, everyone in The Women’s Center had the chance to knock down the Hate Wall to symbolize the commitment to overcome discrimination and stereotypes. The boxes came down within a matter of seconds.
“It’s really important that we educate ourselves and that we are aware of these things that happen on campus and that we acknowledge them,” Gomez said. “And as well, after we see this that we actually knock this Hate Wall down, that we support the students that are hurt by these things that are being said.”