Inclusive murals celebrate the underrepresented at Iowa

Student artists hope recently completed murals leave a message of acceptance and showcase diversity on campus


Ben Smith/Contributed Photo

Sarah Watson, [email protected]


The University of Iowa Student Government unveiled four student-painted murals around campus on Sept. 1. The murals, located in two tunnels, showcase the theme “Underrepresented at Iowa.”

“One of the reasons we started the project was because we wanted to showcase more undergraduate artwork on campus,” organizer Alexia Sanchez said. “Within the theme that we chose, I think it shows that Iowa and student government want to advocate for, and showcase, and give students the opportunity to have that freedom of speech through art.”

The project, which has been in the works since winter, was headed by UISG members Sanchez and Abby Simon as well as art student Kalena Meyer.

The first tunnel, located under a bridge near the IMU, showcases the National Panhellenic Council on one wall with painted figures to represent each of the nine African American sororities and fraternities. Although lead artist junior Melissa Ortiz is of Mexican-American heritage and not a part of the council, she said she was impressed with the unique qualities of each fraternity and sorority when she first went to a council step show.

“Being a minority at a [predominately white institution], I didn’t feel at home here, but when I went to the step show, everybody was so friendly. It was like a big family, and I felt like a part of it,” Ortiz said. “I followed everybody on Instagram, and I watched their steps and their strolls and what they stand for and thought that was amazing.”

In April, when UISG sent out mass emails requesting applications for mural ideas, Ortiz felt it was her chance to show the community the Panhellenic Council’s unique and vibrant culture.

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“I am so thankful to Melissa for even thinking of doing a mural for [the council] because she did not have to do that,” the council President Gabrielle Young said. “It’s a stamp on this campus of [the council] and what we’re doing.”

Facing that mural is a henna-style painting of an anatomical heart, a tribute to Pakistani culture. Lead artist Mahnoor Wazirzada said she hopes it leaves a message of acceptance.

“It’s a heart, it’s flowing, there are flowers flowing out of it; it’s just kind of this all-encompassing image of beauty and love and happiness,” Wazirzada said, “I want that message to be sent out to everybody, no matter who someone is. I’d judge them on their heart and what’s inside of them rather than what I can see.”

The second tunnel, located on the west side of the river, honors Latinx heritage with several clenched fists and flags from 25 countries. Lead artists Kimberly Castillo and Cassandra Garza echoed the theme of recognizing underrepresented communities. Castillo and Garza said every part of the mural represents a characteristic of Latinx society, emphasizing the people’s strength, unity, and inclusiveness.

Opposite the mural, the Delta Lambda Phi fraternity, led by artist Harrison Freund, painted a mural to represent the history of the LGBTQ+ community. In the center are historical figures important to progressing the LGBTQ+ community starting with Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official, and ending with Ellen DeGeneres. Surrounding them are dates and taglines of important events and organizations on campus and in the community.

“It’s really just trying to tell a story of a community that has historically been thrown to the side and marginalized,” Freund said, “Now, it’s beginning to gain recognition as being deserving of dignity, but it’s important to preserve that story.”

In the future, UISG hopes to create more murals around campus, and it intends to unveil plans for a new cycle of murals sometime soon.

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