The social media campaign #WeAreAllUVa wrapped up a week of photo shoots Thursday aimed at challenging the concept of “diversity” on Grounds. The campaign had more than 100 participants and received more than 200 submissions.
The campaign held drop-in photo sessions for students to pose with messages about their personal experience of diversity and accepted students submissions via email, which are posted to the Tumblr page #WeAreAllUVa and a Facebook event page.
Inspired by the #ITooAmHarvard photo project at Harvard University, the three creator-photographers — third-year College students Ashley Blackwell and Augustina Mensa-Kwao, and second-year Batten graduate student Anna Sofia Yurtaslan — wanted to cast a wider net of experience in their project.
“Diversity includes the differences we can’t see,” Blackwell said. “It’s more than race and ethnicity. … Diversity is meant to be [an] inclusive concept; the point of challenging it is that it can be a very polarizing conversation.”
The blog is still accepting photo submissions and the three leaders plan to start another project based on personal stories they have collected. Stories collected from students, faculty and staff throughout the course of the photo-sessions will be used to create a video or other media project.
“Some of them had me bawling,” Mensa-Kwao said.
The blog features photos of athletes, international students, sorority women, African-American students, feminists, gay and lesbian students and others all sharing personal stories of how they experience diversity. Some quote from offensive comments directed at them, others offer questions based on assumptions and other use a strong statement.
“It takes bravery [to pose with the picture],” Yurtaslan said. “The value comes from letting yourself be uncomfortable.”
All the founders agree the project is filling a need on grounds, creating a platform for students to share experiences and “to express, across social groups, frustrations, anger, hurt” Yurtaslan said.
“One girl wrote about a guy hitting on her at Christians,” Yurtaslan said, referring to the late-night pizza place on the Corner. “She told him she was Turkish and he said ‘go f*** yourself’. The last line of her sign read ‘it hurt’, and though it may not be obvious, you see that feeling in others’ [boards], [the feeling that] ‘other people have hurt me whether accidentally or through intolerance’.”
Mensa-Kwao and Blackwell also wanted to raise awareness about the larger University community through the project, to challenge the perceived boundaries of the University. The blog features pictures of University workers, Charlottesville residents and a homeless man.
“One worker came up to me in Newcomb, said she had seen us on the news and loved the project,” Mensa-Kwao said. “She wanted to know how she could get involved.”
The project has gained traction through shares from the project’s Facebook event page and participants sharing photos from the blog on their personal Facebooks. Yurtaslan credits the format to the increased popularity.
“Students are seeking us out [at the drop-in sessions],” she said.
One of the most popular photos, with more than 300 likes on the event page, features two male students kissing with the caption “he’s the cutest”.
#WeAreAllUVa has reached out to CIOs across Grounds who have forwarded emails to encourage members to participate. A photo session has been added to the Middle Eastern Culture Month’s schedule of events and there are plans to collaborate with the Latino Student Alliance as well.