Students merge visions into a single mural


As she squeezed a tube of paint onto the square ceramic tile to write out her plea for a more compassionate society, Veronica Armstrong had recent news events on her mind.

"I wrote `Love one another' because there have been different situations, such as the boy whose mother died because the 911 operator didn't believe him and the Duke lacrosse controversy, that leave me with the sense that there's no love for one another," she said.

With such a strong yearning in her heart, she said she felt compelled to design a tile for the mural that is being created on the campus of McDaniel College in Westminster as part of the school's annual Diversity Week.

"I'd like to see more love," said Armstrong, a senior from Capitol Heights. "There's a lot of selfishness."

Students have been creating tiles for the mural since last year's Diversity Week, when about 200 tiles were designed, school officials said. Students have also been invited to add to the collection of tiles during homecoming and orientation.

The project is meant to serve as "a mosaic of our community ... [that will] help us visualize our diversity and reinforce the importance of developing a respectful society that is accepting of all our differences," organizers said in a flier distributed across campus.

Ana Velasquez, a graduate student in the college's office of multicultural services who oversees planning for Diversity Week, said she came up with the idea for the mural after searching for a project that could involve everyone.

"The one thing we all have in common is our diversity," said Velasquez, who is studying for a master's degree in human resources development. "I find it difficult to engage the students on this topic. I wanted to find a way to make everyone feel they are a part of this whole diversity thing."

She said she has named the mural "Reflections ME/WE" because the word "ME" casts a reflection as "WE," and vice versa.

"Each one of us is reflected in the whole," said Velasquez, a student from Bolivia. "We're all different, but the same."

Nia Jervay, a senior who plans to work with at-risk youth when she graduates from McDaniel, said that last year she created a tile using Sankofa symbols. "Sankofa" is an African word that means exploring the past to understand one's present to move forward, she said.

"I wanted to represent that because I do believe you have to look at your past to chart your future," said Jervay, who hopes to join the Peace Corps and pursue graduate studies in transpersonal psychology.

This year, Jervay designed a tile bearing the message "Unity in Sisterhood" to reflect her desire to cultivate lasting relationships and her commitment to one of the goals of her sorority, Gamma Sigma Sigma.

The sorority, which has about 90 members at McDaniel, enlisted volunteers to staff the tile wall project table that had been set up in Ensor Lounge in Decker College Center last week.

"`Unity in Sisterhood' is one of our mottos," she said. "It's all about making bonds with other people."

Velasquez said she has been inspired by the positive reception that the campus community has had to the tile wall project.

With her prodding, the school plans to make the mural a permanent fixture on the campus. On Friday, it was installed in Kriel Lounge at the Decker College Center. Because that space can accommodate a mural of about 500 tiles - and school officials estimate they have about 400 tiles already - the artwork will likely have to be moved to a more permanent location on campus.

"It's going to continue to grow and grow," said Zephia Bryant, director of the office of multicultural services. "We're making it where it has the ability to be moved as it grows."

Last week, Ashley Ramos, a senior communications major, designed two tiles - one emblazoned with the flag of Puerto Rico as a tribute to her father's birthplace, the other decorated with pompoms because she's a cheerleader.

She said she and her roommate, who is from Guyana, have spent a lot of time lately talking about the importance of not stereotyping immigrants. She said people need to learn to appreciate each other's differences.

Painting tiles for the wall is one way of accomplishing that.

"Everybody puts their own individuality into their tiles and then that makes up a whole wall," said Ramos, who hopes to begin graduate studies in intercultural communications at Howard University this year. "It all becomes one unit. One big wall. It's neat how the wall symbolizes that."

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