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Unification through art: UNITY project comes to UB to promote connectedness

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This week, students of different identities joined together to exhibit togetherness through an odd medium: yarn.

A circle of 15 poles stand in the Student Union flag room. Each pole has signs with identifying statements, such as “I believe in a higher power,” “I identify with no/another political party” and “I live with a disability or chronic illness.” The middle pole in the circle, the 16th, is where students can pick up yarn and carry it to the surrounding poles with which they identify. Here, students can write down other ways in which they identify themselves. Some students included on the board that they were a “lifelong learner,” a “pianist” and a “feminist.”

The UNITY project is an effort by the Intercultural and Diversity Center (IDC) to reveal how individuals are connected in various ways. The project, created by Nancy Belmont, has been present around the globe and began in Buffalo on Tuesday morning in the SU Flag Room.

UNITY developed last year as a way to counteract against the polarizing political atmosphere. The project has been launched in places such as Australia, Hong Kong and Spain, according to UNITY’s website.

Students wrapped multiple balls of yarn around the poles, starting and ending at the center pole. Within two hours of the project’s start, a rainbow web of yarn could be seen connecting the circle of poles in SU.

Ayenoumou Barry, a sophomore sociology major, is a Diversity Advocate with the IDC. Barry and other advocates helped students to participate in the project. Barry said that it’s a great time to have the project following recent executive orders from President Trump.

Barry wants students to realize that everyone shares common interests and UB’s globally minded campus is the perfect place for the UNITY event.

“Hopefully, as more students participate, we see that all of our identities intertwine,” Barry said. “There’s not just one person who is one thing, we’re all very complex and we all intersect in so many different ways.”

The project encourages students to select as many poles that apply to them.

Mak DePetrillo, a junior health and human services major, is a Diversity Advocate with the IDC. DePetrillo finds that projects such as the UNITY project are powerful considering the current divisions in the country.

“It can seem really difficult to come together with people that are different from you in any capacity,” DePetrillo said. “Especially politically, people on one side will say, ‘Well, people here aren’t like that.’ This project shows that we’re all similar and also that we have similar experiences.”

Students were attracted to the second floor of the SU as the web of yarn got larger.

Angelique Wilson, a junior psychology major and business administration minor, first saw the project on Snapchat and thought it would be something fun to take part in.

Wilson put yarn around numerous poles with messages such as "I consider myself a Democrat," "My heritage is North American" and "My heritage is African."

Jacob Abraham, a graduate student in the Master of Social Work program, is a graduate assistant at the IDC and saw quite a few students approaching the project.

“We’re doing this to show the campus that we’re together, united and we’re here for everyone,” Abraham said.

By the end of the project, it was hard to tell where any of the strings of yarn started or stopped - it looked like a magical blur of colors, shapes and uniting thoughts.

David Goldberg, a sophomore environmental studies major, is a Diversity Advocate who took part in the UNITY project.

Goldberg focuses on programs that touch upon topics like equity, advocacy and inclusion. He recommends that students who don’t feel welcome on campus can come to the IDC, which is an open space for everyone.

There are upcoming events that the IDC is set to host that promote unity on campus as well. Barry said that the World Bazaar celebrates differences in culture & ethnicity and will occur in the spring.

“The point is that people see that most of our identities overlap,” Goldberg said. “You may fixate on one thing that really separates you from the other but you probably have things that make you similar.”

Benjamin Blanchet is the assistant arts editor and can be reached at benjamin.blanchet@ubspectrum.com


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