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Recently, artist Bianca McGraw led a series of events with BEAU students and faculty on the theme of microaggressions in media and design. McGraw is a trained graphic designer, fine artist and a professional working in community development and residential life at the University at Buffalo, Buffalo, New York. She delivered a lively and engaging presentation about microaggressions, which are the comments, thoughts and behaviors that are often considered innocent by the speaker, but can often imply deeply offensive thoughts and attitudes against people groups. One example is the use of backhanded compliments such as, “you are really nice for a _____ person.”
McGraw helped the audience confront their own tendencies for microaggressions by explaining what they are, how they occur and how we can become more aware of their impact. The presentation included viewing and discussing several pop culture references: commercials from the 80s, comic book portrayals of women, comedy shows that confront racism, ads and branding, video games, examples of culturally insensitive sports team mascots, and a rather offensive contemporary commercial for a candy bar. The group of students and faculty interrogated the imagery through questioning its meanings and walked away with the challenge to catalog their own microaggressions to better understand how we can consider our own behaviors and the potential to become change-makers as creative professionals.
The two days following the presentation included a workshop of selected students who would participate in an art exhibition at the end of the workshop. Participants also had the opportunity to have one-on-one critiques with McGraw as they worked to formulate their concepts. Students worked alone or in collaboration with each other to produce an artwork.
The intention was that they could walk away at the end of the workshop feeling self-empowered and more knowledgeable about what they can do as artists and in their community to address microaggressions and create a positive impact around them.
Written by Erin Coleman-Cruz, program chair, graphic design