Dear World project comes to UB


After a day of hanging out with his friend, someone punched Zack Chung in the back of the head during his walk home.

The punch knocked him to the ground where he was kicked and insulted because of his sexuality.

“When I was around 14 or 15, I started to fall for my best friend,” said Chung, a junior nuclear technology major. “And my best friend happened to be a guy.”

The assailant left laughing. Chung was in good enough condition to walk afterward, but his problems weren’t over yet.

This is one of the stories Dear World allowed students to share in the Student Union Tuesday night.

The Student Association, along with several offices like the Intercultural and Diversity Center, brought the self-described “business/art project/social experiment” to UB. Dear World centers around photographing people who have encouraging and powerful messages written on themselves. According to Jonah Evans, the executive producer of Dear World, more than 200 students participated in the photo shoot in the Student Union.

“[I] learned more about UB students in one day than in one year,” said Terri Budek, associate director of the Intercultural and Diversity Center.

During the symposium Tuesday night, students gathered in the Student Union Theater to listen to six students tell their stories of hardship. In addition to sharing their own stories, students also heard some of the stories Dear World has collected from across the globe.

Chung, one of the six students who spoke at the symposium, told the story of coming out about his sexuality. He was convinced the man who had assaulted him went to his school and, as a result, everyone would know about his sexuality within the next day or so – including his father.

Chung didn’t want his father to find out about his sexuality because, according to him, his father was anti-LGBTQ at the time, so Chung feared he would beat him if he found out.

So Chung hatched a drastic plan.

“I decided like two blocks away from my home that I was going to run away,” Chung said.

At that moment, his mom drove by on her way home from work and, seeing how distressed her son was, made him get in the car. Chung wouldn’t tell her what had happened. But she didn’t seem to care.

“She ended up telling me that there was nothing that I could be say or do that would make her love me any less,” Chung said.

What his mother said made him realize that being attacked didn’t really matter – it was just a momentary experience that could only bring him down if he let it. Because of this, Chung wrote “Nothing really matters,” on his arms, twisting the phrase into something positive.

Sabrina Cruz, a student affairs graduate student, also spoke at the event. Cruz had “Resting b*tchface does not equal emotionless” written on her arms.

Cruz wrote this because she does not express her emotions in the same ways that others do. She believes there is a standard that people are expected to meet when it comes to expressing their emotions, and when someone doesn’t meet that standard, most people will assume that person has no emotions at all.

According to her, that assumption is false.

“Just because someone’s face doesn’t match what you think they should be feeling, that doesn’t mean that they’re not feeling,” Cruz said. “Just know that when you judge someone for they’re lack of emotion, when they go home at night, they may be sobbing.”

Tiffany Vera, a senior psychology and speech and hearing major had “I have a voice” written on her arms. She said due to her race and gender, she often feels as though other people are unwilling to hear the things she has to say.

“I say that I have a voice because all of the identities I associate myself with, all the experiences I have all make me who I am . . . and my voice is valid,” Vera said.

Juweria Dahir, a graduate student studying sociology and social policy chose to have “ISIS hijacked Islam” written on her arms.

Due to the recent ISIS attacks in Paris, France, Dahir said that many people are stereotyping the 1.6 billion Muslims around the world by lumping them in the same category as the radical terrorists.

“Do you really think that all 1.6 billion of us follow a religion of violence?” Dahir asked the crowd.

Jordan Oscar, a senior English major, wrote on his arms “Always improve. Never settle.”

Three years ago Oscar weighed 267 pounds. Since then, he has lost 69 pounds.

He explained that his significant weight loss was one of the two reasons why he wrote “Always improve. Never settle”on his arms. The other reason was that he had to work his way through a deep depression last year. Rather than being shy about the things he’s been through, Oscar was very open.

“I don’t hide from it because it does no one justice to hide from their struggle,” Oscar said.

Prasanna Thyagarajan, a business major, had “Genius is initiative on fire” written on his arms.

Thyayarajan dedicated the message to his father. He said that he comes from a poor family of six that struggles to survive on the $1,000 salary his father makes per month.

He explained that his father has sold everything he has in order for him to attend UB.

“He sees his dreams in me, that’s why I wrote this: Genius is initiative on fire,” Thyayarajan said.

Although these six students showed some courage by talking in front of a theatre full of people, they were not the only ones with a story to tell.

Editor’s note: Jordan Oscar was an editor for The Spectrum last semester.

John Jacobs is a features staff writer and can be reached at