Auburn University students mixed with community groups to discuss diversity, inclusion, gentrification, conservation and more.
The Fall 2019 Diversity Symposium, sponsored through the College of Liberal Arts, at the Caroline Marshall Draughon Center for the Arts and Humanities, featured sessions led by professors and students.
“It’s a place for us to feel comfortable about discussing issues that are very important to us and have a mix of again, faculty, students, community,” said Giovanna Summerfield, professor and associate dean for education affairs in the College of Liberal Arts.
The annual event was instigated by students years ago.
“The goal turned out not only for them to have the venue to receive that, but also a place where they can network,” Summerfield said.
Session one was focused on cultural diversity, session two was based on diversity and pedagogy, session three on diversity in the community and, finally, session four on media and diversity.
Artist Esteban del Valle followed those up with a keynote speech. It was del Valle’s third speech at Auburn University, where he was awarded The Daniel F. Breeden Eminent Scholar Chair for Spring 2020.
Del Valle is an interdisciplinary artist who lives in New York. His medium focuses on “graffiti”-based murals, film, 3D sculptures and more.
The Chicago native found a love for graffiti and art while on his path to being an engineering major on scholarship.
“I think everybody’s field is creative, and I think every individual and human is creative and I think the world is a product of creative energy,” he said.
Del Valle put two self-portraits up on a screen for viewers to see.
One was realistic, life-like and obviously looked like del Valle. The other — abstract and less identifiable.
“I think all of my art and all my practice is a product of the self-portrait, which is an ongoing process of trying to understand who I am, where I’m from and where I’m trying to go,” he said.
Del Valle’s projects have included working with youths. One of his murals in Brooklyn focused on was mass incarceration.
“I was working with a mural organization called Brownswell that works using specifically murals as a platform to discuss themes of social justice and community identity,” he said.
Often del Valle uses his artwork to make points about society, about a classist structure or about race and identity.
“I’ve done a lot of research into the role of ‘dogs playing poker’ in pop culture, specifically in TV and cinema and how it acts as a signifier of class, as a way of putting down low-income communities and their inability to understand culture,” del Valle said.
The symposium ended with a tour of the Pebble Hill House, but after a performance by the Mosaic Theatre Company for guests.
The Mosaic Theatre Company — based out of the theater department at Auburn — hosts students from each major.
They performed a skit meant to inform audience members on planet-saving measures.
Through humor and visuals, their skit addressed water conservation, buying organic products, food waste and the effects of driving vs. walking or taking a bus.
Two of the actors performed as students playing a video game. The rest of the company performed as characters within that video game, either avatars, Mother Nature or as items like the shower, the grocery cart, or as other students within the game.
“Did you know that bar soap is more sustainable than liquid soap in almost every way?” said one of the showers to player No. 2. “It uses less packaging. The packaging it does use is recyclable, and you will efficiently use 100 percent of the product rather than any getting wasted at the bottom of the container.”
Mother Nature explained why shopping organically is much better for the environment than non-organic produce and products.
“Wowee, thanks for spending a little extra,” the grocery cart said. “It’ll go a long way if you make it a habit.”