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Addressing diversity

BY JOSIE JONES | APRIL 14, 2010 7:30 AM

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One hundred black-and-white photos featuring UI students with duct-taped mouths and NOH8 tattoos decorate the once-Styrofoam wall. Around the corner, magazine ads depicting women and men as objects are scattered on pink and blue paper.

The rooms create a museum more commonly known on campuses across the United States as Boxes and Walls — an interactive, emotional, and educational tour designed to raise awareness about various areas of diversity.

Boxes and Walls will begin at 5 p.m. today in the Burge Carnival Room. Tours will leave every 10 minutes, with the last tour beginning at 8:30 p.m. The free event is open to all community members.

Kate Sojka, a student-development coordinator for the Office of Residence Life, said the idea behind Boxes and Walls is to provide an educational opportunity that exposes and helps increase awareness of different diversity issues.

In its fourth year at the UI, Boxes and Walls covers freedom of speech, gender, and ethnicity. Each focus area is broken down into three parts covering one aspect within the diversity topic. The subject covered and angle taken are solely decided by the volunteer student designers who create the room. But the program doesn’t cover just the good aspects of an issue.

“We really want to create an open mind experience so [participants] can see both sides,” Sojka said.

UI senior Brodi Bender-Olson designed the room based on the NOH8 campaign, which started in California in support of same-sex marriage. She adopted the idea to make it her own.

“Instead of being just about gay marriage, it encompasses all sorts of things about censorship and freedom of speech,” she said. “It signifies that if you can’t speak for yourself, nobody else will be able to.”

UI junior Zane Umsted addresses the issue of gender in his design — more specifically, gender representation in advertisements. The cinema and communication-studies major will show how women are represented as objects and that there is an ideal man in ads through magazine advertisements and commercials.

“It’s such a passive visual intake,” he said. “You don’t really realize what it’s trying to do. Sure, it’s trying to sell you a product, but it has to sell you a bunch of ideas of why that product is important.”

Boxes and Walls addresses diversity issues that day-to-day conversations don’t normally center on.

The project also places participants in real-life situations that they may not think about but that some people have to go through. Sojka feels this is valuable for students to recognize.

“It’s important to teach students to work with people who are different from them and how they can appreciate that,” she said.

While Umsted and Bender-Olson are designing a room for the first time, they both said the effect Boxes and Walls had on them last year was the motivating factor to get involved.

“It’s quite an emotional experience,” Bender-Olson said. “I really wanted to be a part of something positive and educational.”

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