By Jenelle (Bayus) Sanders

The establishment of the new Black Lives Matter art installation, located on the east wall of Colton-Turner Hall, is one of many examples of Hiram College’s rich legacy of inclusion and innovation that has been practiced since its founding in 1850. A key message of the artwork is to convey a spirit of belonging, safety, equity, social justice, and community engagement about race and other diversity issues more broadly throughout the campus. Inspired by a diverse group of Hiram students, the concept of the BLM mural can be considered an outward expression of how students embrace Hiram’s five Core Values: Community, Learning, Responsibility, Diversity, and Innovation. “Our students are very mindful of the fact that we live in a complex and troubled world. Thus, they want to have a role in creating spaces that will lend to a more inviting, inclusive, and universally humane society. This artwork is intended to be thought-provoking with hopes that it will evoke conversations and appropriate action around anti-racism, bias reduction, and the dismantling of systemic oppression.” said Dee West, Interim Dean of Students and Chief Diversity Officer.

The BLM art installation came to fruition as a collaborative effort by the 2020-21 Student Senate Executive Board and Black Student Union club officers supported by other students, faculty, staff, and members of the Board of Trustees. The art was designed by Columbus-based muralist, Lisa McLymont, and illustrated by Cleveland-based artist and activist, Abdul Rashid.

“For viewers seeing the mural for the first time this installation should mean a beginning of a new chapter of equality and inclusion on Hiram’s campus,” said Taylor Mullen, political science and communication double major and president of the Black Student Union (BSU). The BSU is an organization that advocates unity, growth, and empowerment while exploring the Black experience. “Our goals and objectives are to increase Black student recruitment, enrollment, and retention and to provide services and programs designed to create a campus environment that recognizes the benefits of cultural inclusivity for all students,” said Mullen.

Deeply moved by the tragic murder in 2020 of George Floyd, a conversation sparked between the Black Student Union and the Student Senate Executive Board on Hiram’s campus. “We felt an urgent need to collaborate and do our part in showcasing to our fellow students and the campus overall that, regardless of events that signal the contrary, Black lives do matter. As student leaders, it was our responsibility to stand in solidarity with others around the nation and world in fighting for change and equality,” said Mullen.

“The hard work from the Senate Executive Board and the Black Student Union Officers to bring this proposal to life was incredibly inspiring, said President of the Senate Executive Board Lyndsey Johns. “I am proud to represent an organization that played a part in this installation and to be able to celebrate and dedicate this installation with students when they return in the Fall.”

A portion of Hiram’s mission statement seeks to prepare students to face the challenges of the times. “Prior to the current political controversies surrounding Black Lives Matter, the grounding philosophy behind BLM derived from a compassionate online comment that was made on Twitter to comfort many who were reacting to the outcome of the Zimmerman trial involving the murder of Trayvon Martin. The seemingly simple phrase “Black Lives (do) Matter” captured the hearts and minds of many and brought people from all backgrounds together to focus on addressing social injustice,” said West. “At Hiram, our Black Lives Matter installation is about extending that conversation and doing the important anti-bias and ant-racism work,” said West.

President of Student Senate, Lyndsey Johns echoes the importance of understanding the overarching goal of the BLM installation. “I am proud that Hiram College supports this installation. It shows a commitment to confronting the urgent challenges of our times,” said Johns. “However, this cannot be the end of the conversation of racial discrimination on our campus and we must continue to act through education, confronting bias, and expanding opportunities to promote equity and inclusion.”

Hiram College hopes that viewers of the art installation will be deeply inspired. In fact, the words accompanying the art beckon viewers to get involved in any opportunity to engage in the work of anti-racism and anti-bias. “This message to the viewers is a message of hope,” said Mullen. “To me, the college’s views on diversity and cultural integrity are headed in the right direction.”

Satasha George, biology major and vice president of the Black Student Union, is proud to be a student at Hiram College and is grateful for the unwavering support across campus.

“I feel heard. Often being a student of color in STEM, I feel unnoticed on campus; that I need to speak the loudest in the room, just to be a part of the conversation. Hiram has made me feel seen, from my classes to my involvement on campus,” she said. “By installing this mural Hiram College is making a statement that says they understand and respect all their students. This mural shows that with each student that comes to Hiram, their background and their cultures are recognized and respected. That no student should feel like their voices are not heard.”

West shares the same sentiment as Mullen, Johns and George. “It’s a privilege to be a part of an intelligent community where students want to make a real difference in the world. Student leaders at Hiram have proven time and again that they have the courage, commitment, and passion to impact change. This initiative was introduced by student leaders who want our campus to be racism and bias free. I have great respect for our student leaders and join other faculty, staff, and administrators who continue to champion the cause of anti-racism.”

A dedication ceremony hosted by Student Senate, the Black Student Union, and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion will be held on August 29, 2022. Additional details will be shared closer to the date.