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Anti-racist art installation at college deemed racist (yet again)

First it was the Ku Klux Klan effigy by a visiting scholar at the University of Iowa. Then a “microaggressions” display by an Asian American student group at Brandeis.

The latest anti-racist installation to itself be deemed racist is at the State University of New York-Buffalo, also known as the University at Buffalo.

The Spectrum reports that a graduate art student admitted to hanging racially inflammatory signs on campus with no prior explanation:

[Ashley] Powell, who is black, posted the signs for a project for her Installation in Urban Spaces class, a 400-level arts class that required she make an installation in an urban area that involved time. …

Starting at around 1 p.m. Wednesday, University Police received 11 calls from students stating they saw “White Only” and “Black Only” signs in Clemens Hall. Chief of Police Gerald Schoenle said the officers removed four signs and checked the building for any others.

It spooked the campus so badly (and quickly went viral) that the Black Student Union held an open meeting where Powell (joined by her class) defended herself against “student outrage”:

Deidree Golbourne, a junior African American studies major, said the signs caused cultural trauma and her initial reaction was that she didn’t feel safe.

“If you’re walking and see the sign, the first thing you think is, ‘Wow, not our university,’” Golbourne said. …

As Powell spoke, some students left the meeting crying and one slammed a door as he walked out.

“I apologize for hurting people, but I won’t apologize for what I did,” Powell said to the group.

Powell, who claims the project was spurred by her experience being called “derogatory racist terms” and facing “police intimidation,” according to the Spectrum, wrote a long explanation of her reasoning for doing the project:

Art finds a way to say what could not be said before. It has the agency to say what would not have been said before. I am an artist, this is my practice, and this is how I speak. This art project is what it took to force people to have a conversation that should have already taken place at this magnitude.

The university investigated as soon as the signs were spotted (of course), and later released a short statement that couldn’t even bring itself to acknowledge the subject matter of Powell’s art project:

The university is encouraging our community to discuss how we negotiate the boundaries of academic freedom in a safe and inclusive environment that values freedom of expression and further builds a culture of inclusion.

The University at Buffalo stands strong in our commitment to ensuring that such discourse occurs in a safe, inclusive and intellectually open environment.

“Safe, inclusive and intellectually open” is quite the mixed message, right?

Read the story, Powell’s explanation and school response.

h/t Inside Higher Ed

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IMAGE: Dusan Petkovic/Shutterstock


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