BUFFALO, N.Y., Sept. 19 (UPI) — A New York graduate student has admitted to hanging up several signs on the campus of the State University of New York at Buffalo reading “white only” and “black only.”
Ashley Powell, a fine arts student at the university, reportedly announced her responsibility for the signs in front of over 70 concerned students during a Black Student Union meeting Wednesday night. In a statement submitted to the university’s news outlet, The Spectrum, Powell apologized for causing intense anxiety at her school, but refuses to shy away from her art.
“I apologize for the extreme trauma, fear, and actual hurt and pain these signs brought about,” Powell, a 25-year-old African American student, wrote. “I apologize if you were hurt, but I do not apologize for what I did. Once again, this is my art practice. My work directly involves black trauma and non-white suffering. I do not believe that there can be social healing without first coming to terms with and expressing our own pain, rage, and trauma.”
Powell reportedly posted 17 racially-charged signs within public spaces at the university including hallways, water fountains, benches and bathrooms. “The prompt for this project was to create an installation within 5 minutes walking distance from the CFA, which addresses ‘time.’ We were welcomed to address time in whichever way we interpret it and however we see fit,” Powell explained. “In this class, we are learning to finesse our articulation as artists, strengthen our voices, and unapologetically pursue our practice.”
Powell’s project — created for her Installation: Urban Spaces class — is reportedly called “Our Compliance” and aims “to expose white privilege.”
“Our society still actively maintains racist structures that benefit one group of people, and oppress another,” the Chicago-born artist explained. “Forty to fifty years ago, these structures were visibly apparent and physically graspable through the existence of signs that looked exactly like the signs I put up. Today these signs may no longer exist, but the system that they once reinforced still does.”
Four signs were reportedly removed by police officers, Chief Gerald Schoenle told Spectrum. On Friday, UB’s Associate Vice President for Media Relations John DellaContrada released a statement on behalf of the institution regarding the incident.
“We are committed to ensuring that the University at Buffalo is welcoming and supportive of all members of our community,” he wrote. “On a daily basis our faculty and students explore sensitive and difficult topics in an environment that values freedom of expression, and this week’s student art project is generating considerable dialogue.”
DellaContrada encouraged readers to discuss “how we negotiate the boundaries of academic freedom in a safe and inclusive environment that values freedom of expression and further builds a culture of inclusion.”