UI students use T. Anne Cleary walkway to spread kind messages

On Sept. 14, positive messages written by students in the UI’s Performing Power/Performing Protest course such as “you belong here” and “embrace yourself” could be seen while walking down the T. Anne Cleary walkway.


Photo by Johanna Leonard.

Isabelle Foland, News Reporter

One University of Iowa class spread positivity to staff and students after drawing inspirational messages on the T. Anne Cleary walkway last week.

Passersby could read messages like “you belong here” and “embrace yourself” while crossing the walkway last week after students chalked the sidewalks.

Students enrolled in “Performing Power/Performing Protest,” a Department of Dance course taught by professor Danielle Russo, wrote the messages on Sept. 14.

Russo is a visiting assistant professor at the UI and joined the dance department this fall. She previously taught at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and other New York-based universities.

In an email to The Daily Iowan, Russo wrote the overall goal of the “Performing Power/Performing Protest” class is to study the different aspects of the art of performance and explore how people in history and people today use these aspects to become active agents of change within their communities.

The inspiration for the chalk messages came from the class’s discussions at the beginning of the course over how to define their own core values and beliefs. They also learned how to put power behind those beliefs in the form of protest and activism, Russo wrote.

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After those conversations, the class created a collective written statement reflecting a shared core belief that resonated with the entire class.

“[Our goal is] to create a comfortably accessible safe space for UI students to better their mental health by creating authentic student-to-student connections and consciously spreading positivity,” she wrote.

Once the class determined their core value, Russo wrote they worked together to decide how to enact this sentiment.

The class decided to leave chalk drawings on T. Anne Cleary because of the walkway’s high foot traffic, she wrote.

Another big reason, wrote Russo, was that the T. Anne Cleary walkway is a memorial for the late T. Anne Cleary, who was killed in a mass shooting on UI campus in 1991. The significance of the memorial was relevant to their mission to spread positivity on a student-to-student basis.

“Overall, they had two classes to create and produce this work,” Russo wrote. “Although brief, this quick timetable is a very realistic representation of what it can be like for activists and community organizers to mobilize, create, and produce public work and events.”

The class will do another project like the chalk messages later in the semester. She added they may also consider drawing the chalk messages again.

First-year UI student Taryn Neal participated in the chalk drawings. Neal said initially she was unsure how the project’s impact would be to university members.

“Honestly, I kind of walked in being like, I don’t know if this is going to really help people or not,” Neal said. “But then after hearing a lot of people say things about it and a lot of people comment on it, I realized that it has more impact than I would have thought. And I was really glad I did it.”

First-year UI student Sara Bayer noticed the messages while walking to class last week and said she enjoyed reading them.

“I thought it was a creative way to use the walkway to show a message,” Bayer said.

Neal said the project left her and her classmates feeling positive as well.

“It actually kind of made me more positive,” Neal said. “. . . I feel like it’s a great way to get involved with your peers, and I thought it was very, very fun and very positive.”

Correction: On Sept. 25 The Daily Iowan left out the importance of the T. Anne Cleary location for the class’s chalk messages. We have corrected this and regret the oversight.

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