The quarter-long project of the Winter Quarter Chicano/a Studies 171: Mural Workshop class was canceled. Set to be painted on the North Wall of the Student Community Center (SCC), this mural was created by the nine-student class led by Assistant Professor Maceo Montoya.
Generalized figures were used to represent a diverse population of 32,000 UC Davis students and the goals of the SCC and its organizations. Created to deal with issues relevant to a variety of affiliations, this class took on a large responsibility. It’s nearly impossible to represent every single individual on our campus in a single mural.
While essentially working with the SCC to produce pre-approved designs, this class also reached out to interview students and staff from organizations at the SCC to converse about experiences and themes pertinent to the development of the mural. While they realized that it’s impossible to embody the spectrum of the UC Davis student body, the students focused on creating universal images meant to reflect a spirit of openness, acceptance and appreciation.
Which is why we, along with the creators of the project, are extremely confused as to why there was backlash and anger expressed at the presentation of the mural design for public comment. Small, specific changes were mutually agreed upon, but major ones were proposed as well.
Requests for better representation of body types, sexualities, hair types and cultures were made to the class months after original discussion took place. Students and staff made accusations that not all races were embodied in this three-panel mural, a set amount of space that doesn’t necessarily allow for a perfect population representation in the first place.
SCC administrators didn’t defend an academic class after previously approving and praising the work before the unveiling. Instead, the students received an e-mail asking them to remove or change three-fourths of the mural, leading the class to cancel the project.
Those not involved with the original discussion and growth with the project should not have dominated the discussion. Focus was skewed and aimed at all the wrong aspects of this contribution to the campus. It’s insulting that carefully thought-out student work is being censored for not accommodating impossible expectations, and the ridiculous request should be retracted.
Disappointing as it is that a UC Davis organization is restricting art and backing out on original support for a student project, instead of asking disheartened students to redo their work, why not give them more space to accommodate all requests? And while it’s understandable that all projects require drafts, discussion and collaboration, pressuring students to change their designs after months of decided and highly contemplated concepts is misleading, frustrating and disconcerting.