On Sept. 8, signs went up on Herak Lawn at Gonzaga University in memoriam of the unarmed Black individuals who have been killed by police in the last decade.
This exhibit, Black Lives Matter #SayTheirName, was put up by Unity Multicultural Education Center (UMEC) staff in collaboration with professor Juliane Mora’s communication studies courses 230: Understanding Identity and 320: Resistance, Struggle and Power.
The exhibit includes 120 signs with the names of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, among other Black lives lost as a result of police brutality.
Each sign has a name of the individual and a QR code which leads to the webpage gonzaga.edu/SayTheirName, where there is an introduction to the exhibit and the list of individuals along with dates, location and other details about their death. There will also be more information about other UMEC programs related to Black Lives Matter.
Joan Iva Fawcett, assistant dean of Diversity, Inclusion, Community and Equity (DICE), said she originally came up with the idea to have a visual exhibit like this one.
“Beyond raising awareness about Black Lives Matter, this exhibit is a visual invitation to our GU community to reflect on, critically think about, and engage in a series of dialogues about all of the complex issues that relate to this international movement,” Fawcett said in an email.
Fawcett said she hopes this exhibit is just the starting point, and that it is the beginning of more conversations about the Black Lives Matter movement and police brutality.
Between Tuesday Sept. 8 and Wednesday Sept. 10 sprinklers went off on Herak Lawn overnight and some damage was done to the exhibit, despite signs being laminated, Fawcett said.
About 70 of the signs were damaged, according to Fawcett.
“The Maintenance and Grounds Manager worked with [the UMEC staff] yesterday [Sept. 10] to get the signs replaced. The signs were laminated and therefore should have been able to withstand the watering, but apparently water seeped into the signs through holes created when the signs were stapled to the wooden stakes,” said Ken Sammons, director of Plant & Construction Services.
Plant Services paid for replacement signs and worked in coordination with UMEC staff to repair and replace the exhibit, which was restored on Sept. 10.
The George Floyd sign also went missing from the exhibit last week, and Campus Security and Public Safety (CSPS) were notified, Fawcett said.
A response, sent through email on Sept. 11 to all undergraduate students at GU from the Office of President Thayne McCulloh said, “Yesterday we learned that this space [the Black Lives Matter #SayTheirName Exhibit] was violated by the intentional removal of the sign bearing George Floyd’s name. We do not condone destroying, diminishing or discounting opposing or conflictive points of view."
"Gonzaga University Campus Security and Public Safety (CSPS) is currently investigating the incident, working with university partners to review camera footage," said Scott Wittel, associate director of CSPS.
CSPS is also working with other university partners in taking steps to assure the safety and integrity of the exhibit with adding additional lighting and increasing patrols of the exhibit, Wittel said.
“At the site of the exhibit on Herak Lawn, lighting has been added, as well as additional security surveillance. Plant Services has made adjustments to the sprinkler schedule in an endeavor to prevent further water damage to the exhibit,” McCulloh said in an email to students Sept. 11.
Mora, assistant professor of communication studies at GU, said she has partnered with DICE and UMEC for a variety of things, and thought this exhibit aligned with her communication studies courses 230: Understanding Identity and 320: Resistance, Struggle and Power.
“I talked to my students the first week of class and said ‘this is a thing that represents power, resistance and struggle and so what we did was, we took volunteers from the group who were both in Spokane, and felt comfortable coming to campus,” Mora said.
Mora said about five students were present and helped put up the exhibit on Herak Lawn.
It's also a requirement for the class to go and visit the exhibit, and for those students who are participating virtually, there will be a “video walk through” of the exhibit, she said.
“The relevance of this [the Black Lives Matter #SayTheirName exhibit], not only to this specific moment and to our campus, but to our class material was just too important of an opportunity to skip,” Mora said.
Mora also believes the public nature of the exhibit will invoke thought in ways it may not have before.
“What I think is great about this exhibit on our lawn is that everybody walks past it, whether you stop and engage with it or not, you have to see it," she said. "One of the things that is critical for any conversation about social change, about social justice and about overturning hierarchies of power and oppression, is to be able to talk about them."
Fawcett shared a similar sentiment.
“The art installation signals that a private and predominantly white institution like GU can proactively address challenging topics not in spite of, but precisely because of our Jesuit, Catholic and humanistic tradition," Fawcett said. "We are called to educate our students for lives of leadership and service for the common good, and we cannot do this without analyzing head and heart-on these contemporary and relevant matters as a community."
The Black Lives Matter #SayTheirName Exhibit will run until Sept. 16.