UNI mural project highlights Cedar Valley's diversity

UNI mural project highlights Cedar Valley's diversity

During this time of national discussion of racial inequality, UNI is uplifting underrepresented voices. The Diversity Is Our Strength project aims to challenge racism and stereotypes about the Cedar Valley in a visible way with a downtown Waterloo mural and accompanying website.

The 80 by 20 foot mural and website project was conceived by UNI Associate Professor of Literacy and Education Shuaib Meacham. The idea for the project had “been kind of percolating beneath the surface since I first got [to UNI]” in 2013, after a faculty orientation left him wanting more representation of students of color, he said.

“It’s really ironic that when I had my first UNI class, I didn’t have any white students,” said Meacham. "Iowa is a diverse place, and it's something that we need to embrace.”

Thus, the Diversity Is Our Strength Project was born. Meacham collaborated with UNI professor Bettina Fabos’ Interactive Digital Studies (IDS) Practicum class, and her team of students led the project. 

A number of community members were photographed and interviewed for the project, including students from Waterloo West High School, area public school students and local leaders — like Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart, Beverly Smith, former regent and associate superintendent for Waterloo Schools, and Mickye Johnson, former director of UNI’s Classic Upward Bound program. In addition to sharing information about their background, each participant shared their thoughts on diversity.

“When multiple perspectives come together, it forces us to challenge our thinking and belief systems,” said Smith in her interview on the website. “When diversity is valued, problems can be better understood and more effectively resolved.”

“It’s about what is Iowa and who is Iowa and how we can all build together,” said Fabos. “I hope [the mural] says to all those kids that their voices matter and their stories matter and Iowans are more diverse than most people think.”

Recent IDS graduate Sami Enos led design of the graphic — a black-and-white collage of portraits with splashes of bold red — that would become the mural and acts as the centerpiece of the website.

“I wanted it to be edgy and a little bit attention grabbing so it would pull you in. I wanted it to have a serious undertone to it but also a playfulness,” Enos said of the design. “I feel like it can really bring the Cedar Valley together and open up a lot of people's eyes.”