Between Ruby Jones and Asplundh Auditorium stands an exhibit on West Chester University’s Quad that is provoking thought about difference, equality, and hate. “Every hour, someone commits a hate crime. Every day eight blacks, three whites, three gays, three Jews and one Latino become victims of hate violence,” is printed on the circumference of the Hate Kills exhibit. The exhibit is a powerful collection of photographs depicting locations where hate crimes have occurred.
Hate Kills, created by National Geographic Photographer, Lynn Johnson, was brought to WCU’s campus Sept. 5 and will remain until Oct. 9. The piece is co-sponsored by various organizations in Student and Academic Affairs, including, the Women’s Center Club, the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Questioning Alliance (LGBTQA), the Office of Multicultural Affairs, and the Women’s Studies Department. Bringing the exhibit to WCU was largely the brainchild of Dr. Adale Sholock, the Director of WCU’s Women’s Center.
Sholock first contacted Johnson a few years ago after seeing the piece at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. Sholock felt so passionately about Johnson’s exhibit that shortly after, she helped bring it to a variety of college campuses in Pennsylvania. In January of 2009, when Sholock took over as head of WCU’s Women’s Center, she started brainstorming how to bring the exhibit to WCU.
“Dr. Jacqueline Hodes, Assistant to the Vice President of Student Affairs, and the LGBTQA coordinator, worked with me on the logistics of bringing it to the campus, but we were financially supported by a large list of campus offices. It’s really been a community effort,” said Sholock.
Jason Stansberry, Graduate Assistant for the LGBTQA, coordinated the volunteers needed to assemble the exhibit. He and eight other volunteers worked tirelessly to see the exhibit come together.
“It’s one of those things that you can’t help but see and be drawn into. I think it’s pretty powerful in that way,” Stansberry said. “I didn’t have to volunteer my Saturday to help set it up, but I did it because of what I felt it could bring to this campus.”
Hate Kills was first inspired by Johnson’s experience working as a photographer for Life magazine on a story about James Byrd, an African American man who was dragged to his death purely out of hate. Life magazine, which was then a monthly, decided to pull the story about James Byrd, and put a story about the Columbine Shooting in its place.
“The photographer really has no power to influence decisions like that, but I really felt that, that was a decision based on valuing one kind of life over another,” Johnson said. “We talk a good game, but in fact we still carry a tremendous burden of prejudice and we are afraid to look at it.”
Fueled by the idea of learning how to use photographs in a different way, Johnson decided to go back to school and get her masters degree in visual communications at Ohio University.
“I was trying to figure out what I wanted my masters thesis to be about when I got a call from a friend who told me about a shooting at a gay bar in Roanoke, Virginia,” Johnson said. “I then realized that, that shooting, and what happened to James Byrd were connected. I decided to use these two pillars of anger and misinformation for my thesis.”
The Hate Kills exhibit was the end result.
“The exhibit is difficult to look at and absorb for a lot of people. The photos are of places where hate crimes occurred, so you don’t see the impact on individual lives. You’re left to imagine what that might be,” Johnson said.
Hate Kills has been encouraging discussion on WCU’s campus on a number of issues related to prejudice and discrimination.
“A lot of professors are incorporating the exhibit into their classrooms. We sent out an early announcement to professors encouraging them to utilize it as an opportunity for discussion, critical reflection, and writing exercises,” Sholock said.
Dr. Lisa Ruchti, an Assistant Women’s Studies Professor at WCU, brought the 80 students that comprise her Women Today classes to view the exhibit.
“I saw their faces change from shock to concern, to sadness, to understanding. This exhibit helped my students experience various effects of hate which helped them connect what they learn in my class to real life,” Ruchti said.
The exhibit’s response wall allows viewers to become a part of the piece with their own thoughts about the issues that Hate Kills raises.
Reactions written on the wall include everything from personal experiences: “I was bullied. It still hurts…” to the wishful: “All I want is equality for my brothers, my sisters, and me.”
The Campus Climate Intervention Team at WCU is responsible for responding and monitoring acts of prejudice in order to keep the campus climate free from acts of intolerance.
“It’s not a crime to express yourself, but it is a crime if you are threatening someone, or defacing property,” Dr. Darla Spence Coffey, Associate Provost and Co-Chair of the Campus Climate Intervention Team, said. “Enforcing the law is just one way to support the University’s value statement.”
WCU students can help create a campus climate free from intolerance themselves.
“We can interrupt oppression in our daily lives. We don’t have to get on the news,” Dr. Jacqueline Hodes, Assistant to the Vice President of Student Affairs, and the coordinator of LGBTQA, said. “When someone says something like ‘that’s so gay,’ we can respond by saying you can’t say that around me. That’s a start to preventing something from getting to the extreme of a hate crime.”
Karen Blyton is a second-year student majoring in English. She can be reached at KB666213@wcupa.edu.