why did usc remove a mural that read: “dismantle whiteness and misogyny on this campus”?

May 16, 2018
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By Ashley Nash, AFROPUNK Contributor

College is often depicted as a safe space for young people to thrive. One where students can develop their own identities and prepare for their careers. While many students thrive in these environments, others excel while enduring race and/or gender-based discrimination.

Time and time again, through sit-ins, marches, and lawmaking, we’ve fought to ensure that educational environments reflect and promote diversity and equality. One student-led group in particular is adding on to this conversation by voicing their concerns and inspiring art in the process.

The students and professors of the Women Designing Media for Social Change course at USC’s Annenberg School of Communications & Journalism recently invited art-activist collective, When Women Disrupt to a class discussion about change on campus. From that discourse, the collective produced a three part, black and white installation featuring four women of color with the words “Dismantle Whiteness And Misogyny On This Campus” placed above, at the center.

Since its completion, the artwork has caused social media users and members of the Trojan community to express their disapproval. Many of the comments infer that the artists’ use of the term “whiteness” is more of an attack on white people being white than on associated behaviors. However, an informational flyer that rests near the installation (and inside of the Annenberg lobby), defines “whiteness” as the following:

  • the unmarked and unnamed place of advantage, privilege or domination
  • a lens thru which white people tend to see themselves and others
  • an organizing principle that shapes institutions, policies and social relations

After about two weeks, a sheet of paper was taped alongside the art piece that read, “White Male Privilege Is A Myth”. It was removed the next day, but not before it also became a talking piece with photos of it surfacing online.

I had the chance to speak with some students who have differing views on why the message and artwork are important. Zaria Francis is a student of the Health & Human Sciences who, when asked how she felt about the art, she said, “The world has come a long way but not far enough.”

The actual placement of the art piece covers two, inward facing walls with the message covering a pillar above the center of the walkway. Francis, along with several anonymous students have expressed their frustration with the placement of the piece. However, Zaria remains hopeful.

“It makes me feel like there’s a chance for the future. I want kids and I want them to experience fairness. If people would get the background and meaning of each word, as explained, they would understand.”

Chase Chen, a student studying Communications Management is also hopeful that bold artwork like this will continue to surface. “Its a message that supports feminism. The women in the mural look like their minds are made up and they’re committed to their ideals. I think the message makes sense and I know that it takes courage to stand against misogyny.”

Chen went on to describe the parallel between the treatment that (female) students (of color) experience and the “damsel” traits that female, video game characters possess. Similar to the demographic of game designers that produce these personas, USC has also been thought to represent the culture and ideals of a male dominated, predominantly white student body, according to Mecca McGlaston.

“I feel like the positioning of it could be better. It’s a bold statement in a hidden place. It makes me feel like I need to do more, like what I’m doing isn’t enough.”

When it comes to acting on behalf of one’s beliefs, this notion seems to still trouble some of the world’s brightest thinkers. Several students provided statements about how words in the message could be tweaked or how the message is “badass” while also refusing to pose for a photo that would place a face to their opinions. However, Bella Mutlugun of the Business Management major stands by the importance of bold advocacy.

“I don’t feel like the use of the term whiteness is offensive. Its a term that doesn’t bother me personally. It is so important on this campus to have this conversation.” Bella went on to explain that, though she has not had any issues with being discriminated against, she knows that Hispanic and African American students experience marginalization often.

“Voices and art like this are needed. And if I’m ever in a situation where it comes to me raising my voice alongside or behalf, I am comfortable doing that too.”

The women who spoke with me, the students and their professors that thoughtfully engage in this conversation and When Women Disrupt are all contributing to a world that stands against anti-feminism and white supremacy. Their voices amplify the intersectional fight that women like Tarana Burke, Emma Gonzalez, Malala Yousafzai and many others are fighting.

It’s easy to get caught up in the connotations of a message and lose sight of what groups are being ostracized and what actions need to take place. The Civil Rights Movement, The Gay Liberation Movement and The Women’s March are all examples of movements inspired by messages that were criticized, but thankfully had boisterous individuals to remind us of the big picture.

From microaggressions and blatant discrimination to harassment and sexual assault, women of color are disproportionately affected. So, when it comes time to having the hard conversations, it’s important that students of all background listen. It’s even more important that after listening, the same levels of commitment to defining “whiteness” be applied to becoming better allies and advocates, to continuing to create an environment where people of diverse backgrounds can become their best selves.

Mecca McGlaston
Zaria Francis
Chase Chen
Bella Mutlugun