Read How Students Are Re-Imagining Campus Space.
#Wearewelcomehere began as a visual assertion & claim to spatial justice on campus. Our first visual placemaking project launched in October of 2016 when several students began to share their stories with other students. In classrooms, residence & community town halls students voiced feeling unwelcome on campus which was often attributed to Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality & Ability. Despite the fact that Universities and Colleges have never been more“diverse” in numerical representation of visible minorities, diversity & inclusion (D&I) programs have failed to create a sense of belonging primarily among first-generation (poor) & non-white graduate students. In 2013 a multi-phased & multi year campus climate report conducted at Teachers College, Columbia concluded that no consensus exists on defining 'diversity,' & that the campus lacked a general sense of belonging.
We decided to affirm our place at the college using visual imagery and strategic placemaking. We aim to leverage creativity to generate the social capital necessary to initiate a conversation around student's role in shaping the campus culture development. We were dystopian in our utopianism. We believed we could invoke dialogue through visual irony. In response to feeling unwelcome we decided to welcome ourselves. Our language deliberately resembled the official language of the college particularly with regards to diversity mission statements.
In October of 2016, we decided to prototype an idea. We created a logo featuring a band of silhouetted figures one of which adorned Columbia’s crown slightly tilted. We opted for a crowd source model to determine interest. Our modest goal was to sell 20 shirts in 20 days or 1 shirt per day. We reached our goal in 14 days and thus the #Wearewelcomehere campaign was born. Our second modest goal was to increase our digital presence and focused on the use of social media as an organizing tool. Our Facebook followers increased rapidly so we added Instagram and twitter.
What our team discovered is that creating and maintaining a collective and creative space is crucial, especially when working with minoritized students. Research shows that minoritized students benefit most from student engagement in terms of wielding the social capital necessary for success. Some have argued, that the survival of people of color depends on creating spaces of radical resistance (hooks, 1990 as cited in Rodriguez, 2011). Though these students would benefit from leadership opportunities and social capital, we have found student social capital to be concentrated in the hands of a few student organizations. These spaces of transformation are critical in sustaining marginalized populations and can also be created during the data collection process, by creating alternative spaces for marginalized students to discuss how students make sense of racism, what they learn from their experiences, and how they survive in the White academy. By providing a physical space to have conversation about racism one can create counter-spaces for students of color, providing an opportunity for students of color to foster their own learning and nurture a supportive environment wherein their experiences are validated and viewed as important knowledge (Solorzano, Ceja) & Yosso, 2000; Solorzano & Villalpando, 1998 as cited in Rodriguez, 2011).