By: Jaqueline Bautista
Notes hang from purple string wrapped around the pillars of the Presidents Hall at The City College of New York. One reads “I come from Western NY, right on the edge of Lake Ontario. We get Canada Weather. None of Y’a’ll can’t handle the cold.” Another stated “I left my country, abandoned my family, and I want to be back, but numbers add up higher here. So,I will continue to stay. One day be ready to give up everyone you love.”
The independent study class, Art and Immigrant Activism, is designed to “explore how art can play a role in activism for immigrant and migrant rights.” Dr. Dewhurst hoped that a project would emerge from in-class discussion and research, saying “I imagined we would research artists and activists and hoped that we might develop our own project, but I did not want to push anything on the group.” Dr. Dewhurst and her five students, Alina Rayas, Flor Gonzalez, Adrea Ruiz Diaz, Aimen Arain, and Khrystal Durate, began developing a story-sharing project known as the Journey Project.
The project came about after two instances, first Dr.Dewhurst explained, “We discussed the increasing levels of anxiety and disconnection on campus and in the world. We discussed how art could play a role in alleviating that anxiety and connecting people. The second moment was when students reminded me that we could build a community around the ideas about immigrant and migrant rights. By simply creating a space for people to share, honor, and listen to each other’s stories—that all of our journeys matter.”
Many students can agree that it is easy to feel lost amongst the crowd on campus. Omma Islam, a Sophomore, noted how difficult it is to meet new people at a commuter school. Aimen Arain explained that “Everyone is just going back and forth from classes all the time and you don’t get to talk to the person next to you and know what they’re going through. That’s somethingI was able to realize in this class when I was listening to personal intimate stories.”
Alina Rayas shared that she had been “searching for a community like this in [my] other classes.” She said that during the independent study, “we really began to trust each other,” and “it really set the tone for us to be able to go and collect stories and begin a conversation with the college community.”
The Art and Immigrant Activism class gave the students the opportunity to develop a project they wished to see on campus, recalled Arain. The class served as a great platform for students to develop communication,Interview, and even marketing skills with the use of social media platforms -such as Instagram – to reach more students.
The display of the notes has begun to catch students’ attention as they make their way down the President’s hall. The PublicRelations department at City College also has interviewed students in the class, and even President Vincent Boudreau participated by sharing his story.
To facilitate the instillation, the class sets up a stand in the President hall to collect anonymous stories. They ask people to share their journey, and one by one the stories came trickling in. The stories were then added to the string of those already displayed. In return, participants received a button and someone else’s story. Flor Gonzalez describes the practice of sharing and receiving stories as “Personal, and when its personal you think about it. When you get another story it’s like you receive someone else’s secret.” The displaying and sharing of stories diminishes the sense of anxiety students feel on campus. Ayesha Abdul-Fattaah, a student who participated in the Journey Project, exclaimed her excitement about having found a space to connect with others, as she often finds herself in isolation on campus. She noted how the idea of unity is dependent on the practice of sharing, “I think it’s important to share things with people.”
Arain explained that the class hopes to see the Project continue; “I still think people are not done sharing their stories, every time we put up a booth people ask when we’re going to be back.” For the future, students in the class hope to have a more permanent installation atCity College or the opportunity to develop a magazine. The independent study class has found a wonderful way to connect students on the City College Campus by offering a space for students to share their stories. Andrea Ruiz Diaz noted how fulfilling it is to see that others are noticing the project: “People are recognizing that they are not alone, we’re offering a safe space to share happy or sad moments. It makes me happy to see that there is a sense of community.”