Activism By Design

Activism By Design

In this course, students have explored how writers, artists and designers respond directly to social issues and initiate work to express ideas, provoke thought, influence opinion, and draw attention to critical issues. We have looked at both historic and present-day examples in writing, film, design and installation art, and the context in which they were created. With the intent to promote what we feel will move our society forward, the culminating question in this course is:  if you could send a message into the world, what would it be? The following are student responses to this assignment.


Nya Dorsey

The Syrian civil war has been happening since 2011. Since then, more than 400,000 Syrians have been killed. Last month, more than 1000 Syrian children were killed and or injured in Syria. Yet, you don’t hear as much about it as you should. Even after seeing the photo of Aylan Kurdi laying lifeless on the beach surfaced, I expected there to be an outcry of support for the Syrian refugees. Instead, there was a ban placed. Where was the pain? Where was the understanding? Where was the sympathy? I often think about how emotionally far we tend to become when disasters happen throughout the world. When it comes to those in need who are outside of the U.S., we detach ourselves from the situation. We think to ourselves, “Oh well it’s not me.” Can the world stop itself from becoming desensitized? I’m not sure, more than likely…no. But, what we can do is make an effort to become more compassionate and emphatic when it comes to those outside of our borders. As a nation, we need to understand that we are each other and anything that affects me, ultimately affects you and vice versa. I thought about the Black Lives Matter movement in correlation to this crisis and I heard the echoes of a song I once heard, “This is a problem, not a black problem.” This is a problem, not a Syrian problem. That is the main premise I wanted to come through this piece. Others’ pain should never be seen as a burden, but an opportunity to lend a hand in order to help a wounded soul. We are each other. Only when we realize that, will we begin to truly lend our hearts, our emotions, and even our resources.

Ryan Meader

Ryan Meader's sign

“STOP PAYING TAXES” is an underground street art campaign that targets city traffic signs through the use of cut vinyl lettering. The vinyl reads “PAYING TAXES” and is to be placed on stop signs to complete the message “STOP PAYING TAXES.” Ideally these stop signs would be selected to be photographed in places with crumbling roads or rundown housing behind them noting the crumbling infrastructure. My idea comes from the belief that if you live in a country where you pay so much in taxes and get so little in return, when you can’t even expect basic city maintenance or safe drinking water while trillions of those dollars are being spent on bombs and incarceration, you have not only a moral right but a responsibility to avoid paying taxes wherever you can. My project, hopefully, will not only help people see what little they actually get with their tax dollars, but also make them question why they pay so much in the first place and what they can do in their lives to gain more control over the product of their labor.

Caitlin Land

One of the largest issues in communication is the illusion that it has taken place. Communication here meaning: to sit down and talk to someone with an open mind in the hopes of eventually reaching a common ground. There is such a strong polarization and the fact that no one ever talks cordially to anyone about heavy issues anymore makes this whole problem get exponentially worse. If no one ever considers that there could be more than one response to an issue then nothing will ever be resolved. It is my hope to create a discussion about the idea that a real gun is often as easy to buy as a toy gun, and pose the question: are we okay with this? And no matter what side you are on, to take a moment to truly consider why you feel the way you do and why the other side feels differently.

Joe Schmitz

Joe Schmitz's sign

As a nation, we blindly go into conversation with previous biases. Genuine critical thinking has become almost obsolete in the media, as rational thought doesn’t make for good news. Instead, the media (and political parties) would rather encourage ignorant herd mentality than provoke intelligence. I made this sign because like so many things in America, we prohibit with little reasoning other than lawmakers or a minority of citizens disliking something. Just like prohibiting loitering and smoking, it seems the media and lawmakers have turned to this echo chamber of thoughts, and given the current political divide, the message or thought of critical thinking being prohibited seems much more realistic than ever before. We must look past biases, before we all become sheep to society, and blindly follow anything we hear on the news.

Taylor Heady

Taylor Heady's sign

“force of character, determination, nerve.”

Coming from a small Midwestern town in the middle of nowhere surrounded by farms and lots of toxic masculinity, female empowerment is something that is important to me. Too many people have archaic views of women’s rights and the differences that still exist in equality between men and women in our society, big and small. With this project, my goal was to create something that shows how women and girls are powerful and can accomplish anything. I hope that someday all young girls can grow up with this knowledge and with the mindset that girls don’t just have moxie, they are moxie.

Jacob Valier

Jacob Valier's sign

I have family members who have served in the military for our country. I am a supporter of serving for your country as a civic duty. I think it goes without saying that I wish that there was peace in the world, as do many if not all Americans. I also think that there have been many times when the leaders of the U.S. have intervened in foreign situations that pose no threat as a way to “keep peace”, but it ends up turning into our problem. With my message, I want to convey my feelings toward troops being sent overseas into situations that were avoidable. Troops should be treated as they are, people. Not like resources that are at the disposal of the person in charge. I believe in serving for your country, but only if it is for reasons that are necessary and meaningful.

Allie Pointer

Allie Pointer's sign

I chose to make my project about moments in life because I feel that when a person looks back on their life, or the lives of others, they remember the moments and experiences they had. Those moments are what make up a person, and forms the emotions and outlooks that they have. Lives are a collection of moments. It is also interesting because a single moment which two people experience, can have different meanings for both. My goal was to make people stop and think about being present in the moments in their lives. I want them to look back on those moments and remember where they were at those times. Not just location but where they were with regards to relationships, emotions, etc.

Kathleen Giang

Kathleen Giang's sign

The concept for this piece was inspired by my cumulative shock over the years when watching people incorrectly separate and dispose their waste. As their carbon footprint and waste production grows, so Americans continue to mindlessly take the planet for granted. The goal of the piece is to bring Americans back to reality: that even though we’ve spent millions of dollars on space exploration, we haven’t found a viable option for survival if and when the Earth is depleted of its resources. It seems that there is a circus mirror that is fogged up with a thick residue of careless consumerism. Now, we wipe it off abruptly with a message of the harsh reality — that there is no planet B.

Courtney Ferguson

Courtney Ferguson's sign

What does it mean to maintain?
It means to shut of that dripping running sink.
It means to pick up that cup on the sidewalk and recycle it.
How do we sustain our environment?
It means to replace your lightbulbs with energy saving bulbs.
It means to unplug your appliances you don’t use.
It means to replace that tree you saw being chopped down.
Then will we remain?

Nathan Backstrom

Nathan Backstrom's sign

The message I was trying to convey was one of being responsible and taking action. The situation in the picture presents an obvious problem and solution, a fire and a fire extinguisher. But how many of us would want someone else to put out the flame? How many of us would wait until the fire was too large until trying to put it out? I think many times when people are presented with issues they would rather respond with complaints or hypothetical solutions rather than taking action. However, if we instead take action against the problems we’re facing, personal or societal, we can prevent ourselves from being reduced to ashes later on.

Meghan Dairaghi

Meghan Dairaghi's sign

America has always marketed itself as the “Land of Opportunity,” in which people are free to, within the confines of the law, pursue new experiences. With this freedom, it’s inevitable that evil will sprout, and the discourse surrounding this evil is polarized. Regardless of personal morals and ideals, our progress in conversation is stilted. We see xenophobia, domestic abuse, immigration regulation disputes. Violence makes it worse. Polarization makes it worse. We put a target on ourselves in this period of stagnation. In the bickering, in this lack of progression, we continue to let evil bloom. What will you do with your opportunity?

Amber Derousse

Amber Derousse's sign

Subconsciously everyone has adapted to new or different situations. As humans, we try to fit in with the crowd and go unnoticed. We have many different coats that we put on depending on where we are and who we are with. By doing this, it puts a strain on ourselves as individuals. This plays a factor in how we mold into our future and who we are going to be. Instead of always trying to fit into the puzzle it is better to be your own unique shape. We will always have to adapt to our society in some way, shape, or form but it is better to stay true to ourselves and not become another piece to the puzzle.

Logan Krietemeyer

Logan Krietmeyer's sign

The goal I had for this project was to do something to help women. A majority of the issue is how women are represented in the media, especially in advertising. Women are constantly being objectified in the media. This creates a way of thinking that is negative and demeaning. I am hoping by shedding some light on this issue women will be treated with dignity and respect. Hopefully this project will evoke some thoughts and discussions on the issue.

Phil Snowbarger

Phil Snowbarger's sign

In today’s world over-sensitivity has become a significant issue; no matter where one is, it seems there is a social requirement to walk on eggshells to be accepted. Opinions aren’t sacred and it needs to be acknowledged that all aspects of life have some amount of humor in them.  Individuals need to be more open to hearing things and realize there is an endless amount of perspectives to view life from, many of which are able to see the humor.

Natalie King

Natalie King's sign

Be Anything” is a section of a phrase everyone hears as a child. “You can be anything you want to be.” That statement isn’t necessarily true. There are societal boundaries that prevent people from being anything depending on your location, class, gender, etc. These are the restrictions. As a person with a dream, it is your duty to break through those restrictions to achieve your goals.

Bailey Crouch

This message contrasts the perception of art and creativity in society. It is not as valued, especially in the school system, compared to the math and sciences. A lot of people have the idea that the arts are not a viable profession but more of a hobby. Schools teach people to memorize rather than use their intuition. When in reality, the real world needs creative people to step up and think out of the box. That’s how we advance the human race. Being creative isn’t easy. It’s hard work and requires a deeper level of thinking than memorizing and spewing information. Art is everywhere we look. A lot of people don’t realize that it comes from some of the most intelligent and cutting-edge types of people. Different professions require different talents and intelligence, so why is there a hierarchy of importance of professions projected on to us?