Students attempt to create empathy where art meets justice

Creating a makeshift shelter is not an activity one would expect to find an honors student engaged in during the final weeks of the semester.

But one group of students in Jordan Acker Anderson's Art and Social Justice honors class set up a cardboard box on the back lawn of campus, secured it to the ground and stuffed a sleeping bag inside it, along with a simple sign.

The sign read: "Homeless."

The temporary installation, juxtaposed on the serene campus setting, was designed to build empathy for the condition of homelessness.

"Homelessness is not only a reality in areas like downtown Milwaukee, but is also an issue that spreads into the suburbs and beyond, with college campuses being no exception," said Mary Parizek, a student involved in this project. "We wanted to create a simple installation that had enough impact to open about a conversation about this issue."

"Over the semester, the class learned about relational aesthetics, which is also known as living as form or social practice, a genre of art where artists work directly with other people through aesthetic exchanges, typically to increase engagement in social issues," Acker Anderson said.

Other projects from this class included:

  • Students installed sheets of red and white paper along the glass window in the library lobby to highlight sexual assault awareness on Denim Day in April. The sexual assault awareness campaign had a secondary experience, said Acker Anderson. The same sheets of paper were distributed to students sitting in the dining hall, and a group photo was taken of students holding up the randomly sorted paper colors from the installation. "The photo shoot explored the connection between a statistic and the reality of a person it represents," she explained.
  • Students created a photo collage of personal mementos that hold special meaning to students. Because mementos recall relationships, the collection of such photographs illustrated a commonality that cut across socioeconomic diversity. "The exchange between strangers over highly personal connections to meaningful objects was a key part of their project," said Acker Anderson.
  • Students held a walking food taste-test booth to create support for healthy food choices. The students intentionally involved members of the Mount Mary community from all aspects of campus life, such as students, faculty, staff and representatives from the current food service company.