Mall wall illustrates words can be hurtful

By Monica Warren
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, September 20, 2004

Exhibit serves as 'physical representation of our oppression of others'

Students and staff may be surprised today to see sayings like "Jesus freak," "She deserved it," "That's so gay," and "Go back to Africa" on a wall in front of Old Main.

The Writing on the Wall Project uses these words and many more this week to teach students about barriers that divide people and serve as a physical reminder of how hurtful words can be.

The wall, sponsored by the Residence Hall Association, is six feet tall and 37 feet long. The wall, which was built yesterday, will stand between Old Main and the student union until 10 a.m. Wednesday.

Students, faculty and staff are then encouraged to help tear it down as a symbol of the collaboration needed to erase divisions between people.

"The important thing for students to take away is to self-reflect," said Sofia Ramos, associate to the director of the Diversity Resource Office said. "Are these words that they use, and is it OK for them to use them?"

"The Wall is a physical representation of our oppression of others throughout human history," literature about the project said. "It symbolizes the barrier that prevents us from connecting in our shared humanity."

The ceremony to tear down the wall Wednesday will be led by Edith Auslander, vice president and senior associate to the president, and will include an address from UA President Pete Likins, Ramos said.

The tearing down of the wall will serve as the kickoff for UA Discusses-Diversity, an all-day event Wednesday.

All members of the university community are invited to attend workshop sessions that focus on diversity issues.

Some session topics will be diversity in the workplace, bilingual education, same-sex marriage and a session on raising a multicultural family, to be presented by Likins.

The day will conclude with an address from Gov. Janet Napolitano and keynote speaker Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League.

"The lesson is that there are words and thoughts that are hurtful," Ramos said. "What seems harmless or funny or cute is not."

The wall - though shocking - is working, volunteers said.

"It gets the point across because it's so bold," said Michael Moore, an optics engineering sophomore who was a volunteer at the wall. "It shocks people so much that they become curious about it. People have been really responsive to it in a positive way."

"People need to think before saying things, and put themselves in another person's situation," said Robert Grace, a special education graduate student.

The Writing on the Wall Project has been put on by other universities across the nation, such as Kansas State University and the University of Florida.

The words and sayings on the wall were written by Residence Hall Association members during a leadership camp, said Jackie Bachelier, an undeclared freshman who attended the camp.

"The reality is, if they wrote it, it's stuff that happens, stuff they hear," Ramos said.

All the materials used to construct the wall were donated, Ramos said.

Ramos encouraged all members of the UA community to take advantage of UA Discusses-Diversity.

Participation in a conference like this could easily cost $1,000 when costs like transportation and lodging are factored in, Ramos said.

The wall will be guarded 24 hours a day. From 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., student docents will stand at the wall to explain the project and its significance.

Police officers will guard the wall from 10 p.m. until 7 a.m., Ramos said.

More information about the Writing on the Wall Project and UA Discusses-Diversity can be found at