Anatomy of a Community

From left to right: Adele Rossignol ’23, Shelby Hanks ’22, Gia Orsino ’23, and Jenna Denomme ’23

In response to expressions of intolerance involving hateful symbols on the Wheaton College campus during the past academic year, we created a visual representation of our college’s diverse community as part of the 2020 May Fellows Colloquium. The Colloquium is a two week course that offers a variety of learning opportunities when it comes to group-work, research, time management, and answering big questions with a tangible product. This year, the question we tackled was: who are we?

We wanted to look at this question through the perspective of a campus community, and in doing so we chose to incorporate as many of these identities as possible using the power of imagery. Our project consisted of an art piece, two videos, and a website featuring photos and a significant amount of writing based on research we did into the intersections between art, hate speech, prejudice, and empathy. For the art piece, we asked the current student body and faculty to provide us with symbols that represent an aspect of their identity; we then displayed them on a mannequin as a personified representation of our diverse but unified campus identity in order to promote understanding and inclusivity. A local Aéropostale store generously provided us with a used mannequin, which we touched up with sandpaper and paint. Once we had gathered over 90 symbols from the survey, we printed and cut them out, then applied them to the mannequin with a water-based glue sealer.

The Anatomy of a Community project portrays the holistic communal identity of Wheaton College. This piece represents how a large spectrum of identifying factors in individuals come together to create a diverse community. The use of symbols to display identity was a decision based on the power that symbols have to express a message in a universal language. The connotations and deeper meanings that an image can contain have the ability to be understood by people from varied cultures and experiences, and can transcend language barriers, making them unite large groups of people. Through this recognition of the various identities on our campus, one can see that there is a space for many and all different identities within a community.

Understanding shared identities and perspectives within a community can strengthen the bonds between members and can foster a deeper connection between people. Conversely, misunderstanding of the perspectives of other people can lead to the development of prejudice. In order to dispel hateful sentiments and messages, communities need to highly value and facilitate understanding and empathy. Only then will an inclusive and safe environment blossom, and therefore promote individual growth for members within the community. The construction of this installation was intended to provide the viewer with a comprehensive idea of shared and individual identities within a unified group. By compiling all these singularly submitted symbols into one public art display, we presented the composition of the Wheaton College population in a tangible and accessible fashion.

For more information on our project, you can visit our website, Anatomy of a Community.

– Jenna Denomme, Shelby Hanks, Gia Orsino, and Adele Rossignol