Behind the scenes of the I Am Chapman exhibit


Graphic by Nita Faulkner

By Emily Witt, Jayson King and Nick Thorpe

Have you ever felt underrepresented in the student body at Chapman University? The I Am Chapman photo exhibit provided students the opportunity to present themselves in various locations around campus.

The exhibit, created last August, was intended to run for one month. It remained on display for 15 months in Argyros Forum and even expanded to other areas of campus. 

It cost no money and students resonated with the project far more than expected. To Jerry Price, vice chancellor for student affairs and dean of students, the thought of taking the exhibit down after it ran its planned course was “sad.”

The exhibit came down at the end of October.

“Right now, the I Am Chapman exhibits are not on display physically anywhere, but they are active on campus digital signage,” said Mike Keyser, assistant director of the Student Union.

What was the exhibit?

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The name of the exhibit is displayed along with the photos in Argyros Forum. Photo by Emily Witt

I Am Chapman was a photo exhibit depicting portraits of student volunteers. Each volunteer’s picture was paired with a caption listing three identifiers chosen by the student.

The most common identifiers include religious affiliation, sexuality, social class, Chapman class standing and ethnicity.

That is why it is not surprising to those of us who work with college students to see that race and sexuality appear frequently among the students who participate in this exhibit,” Price said in regards to frequently displayed identities.

Pictures of volunteers lasted about three weeks in the Argyros Forum hallway before new participants replaced them. According to Price, more than 40 students participated in 2014.

Here are some examples of captions:

“I am Brazilian. I am Christian. I am a life lover,” read Yuri Scharan’s portrait.

Jayetha Panakkadan’s contribution said, “I am foreign-born. I am middle class. I am a supporter of racial equality.”

Words from the I Am Chapman exhibit displayed in size relative to their frequency. Graphic by Nick Thorpe

Words from the I Am Chapman exhibit displayed in size relative to their frequency. Graphic by Nick Thorpe

So, what was the point?

The motivation behind the project was to demonstrate Chapman’s diverse culture. According to Price, Chapman was having “diversity issues.”

In a guest column for The Panther, Price said, “The objective of the exhibit is to highlight and affirm the various backgrounds and attributes that comprise our Chapman student community, particularly those that are fewer in number and thus less readily visible on campus.”

Price, who helped start up the idea, wanted to find a way to represent everyone in the university’s community and make students more aware of their peers.

“We developed three themes in our approach (this year) and that is identity, empathy and community,” Price said.

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Students involved with the project share their thoughts. Graphic by Jayson King, Emily Witt and Nick Thorpe

According to Price, the college demographic is the perfect group for this project. Students come to Chapman with beliefs they were raised on, whether they echo those beliefs or not. College is the time to discover or solidify new or existing values and express them in a welcoming environment.

“University students can bring peace to the future once they have experienced the richness of diverse relationships in their college years,” said Dr. Gail Stearns, dean of the Wallace All Faiths Chapel.

Stearns, also the reverend of the FISH Interfaith Center, said that diversity is important in college as part of becoming a “global citizen” and “dispelling false stereotypes” to prevent violence.

Diversity by the numbers

 The U.S. News & World Report developed and used an algorithm in order to rank the universities and colleges around the nation based on their diversity.

U.S. News took the 2014-15 student body and divided it among different categories, such as non-Hispanic African-American, non-Hispanic white, Hispanic, Asian and multiracial, among others. International students are not included in the calculations due to a lack of information regarding the ethnic and racial identities of these students.

Using the full- and part-time undergraduate student body, U.S. News then created an index that ranges from zero to one. This diversity index gives the likelihood that two random students would be of different races or ethnicities. The closer the index is to one, the more likely that this scenario would happen.

Out of 782 universities, the most diverse universities are Hawaii Pacific University, Holy Names University and California State University, East Bay, each with an index of 0.77.

On the other end of the spectrum is South Carolina State University with an index of 0.08. Some of the larger universities, such as Stanford University, University of Southern California and University of California, Irvine, had index numbers of 0.73, 0.68 and 0.67, respectively. Chapman University ranked 218th on the list, with an index number of 0.53.

For local comparisons, California Lutheran University had an index of 0.59, University of Redlands had an index of 0.58, and the University of La Verne received an index of 0.62. While Chapman’s index number is closer to the top of the rankings than the bottom, there are 217 universities that are more diverse.

The Bottom Line

 The I am Chapman exhibit had more than 40 participants last year and an additional 34 this year. Price said he was pleased with the overall results of the campaign.

“While I respect dissenting opinions on the I Am Chapman exhibit, overall I couldn’t be more thrilled by the way the Chapman community has embraced this campaign,” Price said. “However, I am even more encouraged by students’ ongoing interest in participating in the exhibit.”

The details have yet to be determined, according to Keyser, but the exhibit will continue next semester and potentially expand into the Leatherby Libraries.

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