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New Mural Depicts Social Justice

We thank Natalie Zappella, MSW student who coordinated the mural project, for giving her perspective on the project. Ed.

The new SSW mural begins with each MSW student as we take our first steps into the School and our first steps out as social workers. It speaks to the struggle, the challenge, the inspiration, the anger, the hope, and the engagement that students of past and present experience as we engage and reframe how we view the role of social workers in the quest for a more just world.

Social Justice in Movement, located in the SSW building elevator shaft, as described by the artist, Joe Namy,

… reflects social justice in action and inaction. There are two parts or movements to this mural, the static view and the progressing view.

The static view is seen with the elevator at rest. We are given a bird’s eye perspective of a society with people actively struggling to gain access to social justice, broken up into eight divisions encompassing the society: water and air, food and agriculture, jobs/industry/power, law and justice, education/knowledge/arts, health and medicine, housing and land, technology/media/science.

The society is working collectively to tear away these divisions in order to gain access to these qualities essential to life; however, they do not rely only on access to these qualities from outside their community, but they are also working together to become self-sustaining from within, nurturing the heart of society.

As the elevator ascends (or descends), we are given the progressing view. Revealed to us is a different perspective of people who are working together to make social justice accessible, untying and breaking away the barriers and bringing hope through movement.

The seed for this mural was planted in 2005 with students who formed the Social Justice Orientation Planning Committee (SJOPC) of 2006.1 These students brought art as a beacon and channel of social justice for the new student orientation for fall 2006.

Once approval was received to move forward with a mural, recent alumna Cherise Mattheson and I coordinated the project under the supervision of Associate Professor Michael Spencer. We held an informational event about community murals with the Latino/a Social Work Coalition (L@SWC). 

Staff, faculty, students, and all student organizations were invited to join the Mural Project Steering Com - mittee, 2 which aimed to represent the diverse identi - ties and interests in the School. This group developed a survey to capture the meaning of social justice in the SSW community. We asked for key words, images, colors, and important considerations related to social justice.

We gave three artists the survey results along with the “Expressions of Social Justice” collages made by students, staff, and faculty in fall 2006. The themes developed by the SSW Art Committee—including multiculturalism, family, and protection of the vulnerable—were also provided.

The artists presented several designs to the Mural Steering Committee, who then engaged in a collab - orative process to compile a report and recommenda - tions to present to the dean for final selection. Dean Allen-Meares agreed with the steering committee’s art - ist and design recommendation, allowing us the great opportunity to work with Joe Namy.

Joe is an interdisciplinary artist based out of Detroit, Michigan. His visual and aural creations attempt new ways of empowering reflections and reverberations derived from his Lebanese heritage. He has devoted the majority of his conscious life to exploring art as a means of catalyzing social change and cultural repre - sentation. It is through art that Joe attempts to clarify his own identity, as well as inspire self-awareness for others. He cofounded OTHER, a Detroit-based Arab artist collective, and is also an active member in Detroit Summer, a multiracial, intergenerational, community-transforming collective.

I would like to extend a special thanks and acknowl - edgment to Joe Namy; the artists who assisted in painting; and all the student organizations, students, staff, and faculty who participated in the steering committee or gave feedback on the mural designs. Your participation and involvement is deeply appreci - ated in making this mural representative of our shared commitment to social justice.

—Natalie Zappella is an MSW/MUP dual degree student.

1 SJOPC included students Fazeela Siddiqui, Mary Jo Adgate, Robert Mapes, Chaula Neghandi, Joanna Bleckman, Katie Chynoweth, and Scott Tharp, now alumni; Professor Beth Glover Reed; and Michelle Woods, Erin Peña, and Tim Colenback from the Office of Student Services.

2 SSW Mural Project Steering Committee included student organizations Association of Black Social Work Students (ABSWS), Doctoral Student Organization (DSO), Feminist Toolshed, Latino/a Social Work Coalition (L@SWC), Organization of Jewish Social Workers (OJSW), Rainbow Network, Sigma Phi Omega (SPO), Social Welfare Action Alliance (SWAA), the SSW Student Union, and Committee for Creating Change; faculty and staff Michael Spencer, Beth Glover Reed, Larry Gant, Mary Ruffolo, Neel Mahendra Pandya, and Terry Bennett; students Alexandra Marie Boskovich, Tracy Patterson, and Natalie Zappella; and graduates Cherise Mattheson, Antonia Arga, and Fazeela Siddiqui.

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