In a little over five minutes, the wall would come down.
The drywall structure, which stood all afternoon Wednesday outside the Idaho Commons, was a part of The Writing on the Wall event hosted by the Center for Volunteerism and Social Action (CVSA). The event gave University of Idaho students, faculty and staff from all different backgrounds the opportunity to write statements they found damaging on the wall. The aim of tearing down the wall was to symbolically tear the harmful constructs down with it.
For Sienna Reuben, a fourth-year UI student, the event was a chance to speak out about the color of her skin.
“I am not red,” she wrote. “I am indigenous.”
She said she wrote the statement simply to point out blatant racism that is still present in society.
Reuben said her friend also wrote a statement that displayed the perception that indigenous people are all “free-loaders” to expose a hurtful stereotype.
Reuben said it”s important to show these kinds of racism because often people don”t even realize what they are saying is offensive in any way.
Courtney Stoker, a social justice coordinator at the CVSA, wrote an oppressive statement that is often used without proper understanding of its context – the phrase, “I got gypped.”
Stoker said the phrase is a reference to an indigenous population in Europe called the Roma, or more commonly gypsies.
Stoker said the Roma are just one example of a demographic that has been systematically excluded from society.
“Everyone hates the Roma,” Stoker said. “They”re known for being homeless and dirty. You know, the “dirty gypsy” typical stereotype.”
She said the phrase originates from a fear that the Roma would steal from anybody.
Reuben said she had never heard about the meaning behind the phrase.
“There”s just one example of better understanding,” she said.
For Emily Clark, a UI senior, the event was an opportunity to discuss consent as a continuous process.
“Apparently,” she wrote. “Being repeatedly raped by your significant other is OK, “because you”re dating.””
Clark said she never thought that she would never be in an abusive relationship and didn”t know how to react when it happened.
“I was always told by people, “Oh you”re dating him and you”ve had consensual sex, so it”s not rape,”” Clark said. “Just because I consented to my ex one time does not mean he has control over my body.”
She said that rather than being a one-time thing, consent is required every time two partners engage in any sexual activity regardless of how long they”ve been together.
“It didn”t happen right away though,” she said. “It started probably about a year into the relationship.”
She said so often the idea of rape is put at a distance in people”s minds, which can lead to victim-blaming.
“All of our mutual friends believed that I ruined him, and that I was lying because it was uncomfortable for them,” Clark said. “I lost friends.”
Clark said eventually she was forced to move, but is now safe and currently engaged.
Wendy Silva, a testing assistant at the Testing Center, wrote a series of statements on the wall, each referencing a different social conflict.
Silva”s first statement was, “Trans people are rapists.”
Silva said she researched how the stereotype began and found that it was not related to transgender people at all.
Silva said it began with a cisgender male who was taking photographs of young girls in a restroom and a supposedly anti-trans person saw and began to spread rumors about transgender people.
“It began with this man who is not a trans person at all, has no association with trans people, and somehow conservative ideology jumped to the conclusion that because this man was taking photos of young girls, trans people shouldn”t be able to go into the bathroom of their choice,” she said.
Silva said she also wrote the stereotype that, “refugees and Muslims are all terrorists.”
Silva said she was writing in response to recent political statements regarding the creation of concentration camps for refugees and Muslims in the United States. She said the vast majority of terrorism in the U.S. is internal, committed by white males who have lived in the country their whole lives.
“How do we get from point A to point B?” Silva asked. “It just makes no sense.”
Silva said she also wrote on the wall a statement about all gay people being child molesters.
“Just because we are attracted to people of the same gender, it puts us in this category with all sexual deviants of any kind, which is also absurd,” Silva said.
Silva said the Writing on the Wall event was extremely beneficial to the UI community. She said it”s important to have a forum for starting discussions about difficult topics.
“We can”t always be thinking about being politically correct, or quiet or silent about these things,” she said. “Even if it upsets us or makes us uncomfortable, we have to talk about it if we are going to start making positive changes.”
Silva said the CVSA will host a peace rally at 5:30 p.m. Friday at Friendship Square in downtown Moscow.
“It”s basically going to be a march for justice and equality and anything that has to do with spreading any kind of love,” Silva said.
By the end of the day, when the wall had been covered in stereotypes and constructs, a crowd had gathered to see it torn down. Stoker passed hammers out to the crowd and each person took their turn smashing a piece of the wall.
Some seemed to have a particular word or phrase in mind when taking their turn, others simply struck the wall where they thought they could do the most damage. UI Dean of Students Blaine Eckles took a swing, destroying the word “slut.” Finally, all that remained of the wall was an empty frame and a pile of broken phrases.
“We have to tear down hurtful stereotypes before we can build a more healthy society,” Stoker said.