New School students wandered in from the courtyard, drawn by the commotion in the dimly-lit classrooms on the first floor of the 11th street Lang building.
Inside, buckets filled with Expo markers hung from the ceiling while a blue sheen from the projection of a world map flooded the room, revealing the writing all around the walls.
“Where is home?” “What is home?” “Trace over the border that affects you/your family.” These questions were written on the walls in multiple languages, including Spanish and Chinese.
Guided by these prompts, students responded to President Trump’s decision to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and the idea of border walls by writing on the actual walls around them.
Prior to a major renovation that’s being planned for the 11th street building, Stephanie Browner, the dean of Eugene Lang College, invited Writing On It All, a participatory writing program directed by Alexandra Chasin, an associate professor of literary studies at the college, to utilize the space while it is being unused for a collaborative and interactive event.
The event, titled “Writing On The Wall,” held two separate sessions focused on the topic of border walls and the idea of sanctuary in light of Trump’s decision to rescind DACA. These sessions took place on Sept. 28 and Oct. 3.
“I think it’s beautiful,” said Eli Louis Recht-Appel, a poetry major at Lang, after leaving the installation about border walls. He especially enjoyed the map projections on the walls and responding to the open-ended prompts on the walls and windows that separated the two classrooms.
The two sessions were the result of a collaboration between Writing On It All, alumni and current students at the New School, and a class called Data, Design & Social Justice led by Jennifer Wilson, an associate professor of mathematics at Lang. New School students contributed content like the map projections, and also helped facilitate the sessions.
“It’s important to know the truth. And It’s also really important to be asking the right questions,” said Molly Oberman, a student in the class Data, Design & Social Justice. Her group contributed an interactive presentation of federal budgets, allowing participants to drop pennies into bins where they would prefer to see more funding.
When Judith Elster, a third year theater and politics major at Lang, exited the 11th Street staircase recently, she did not expect to be welcomed into the session by fellow students.
“I even made a few friends in there just by introducing myself,” Elster said. “We wouldn’t normally be writing on walls but it’s something that is fun and different.”
Through its participatory and unconventional methods, Writing On It All compels community members, like Elster, to reevaluate their understanding of the meaning of sanctuary, says Alexandra Chasin. She emphasized the role of a community in thinking through this issue.
“We have to hope that there is a community here or we have to bring one into being. Or we’re not going to produce a new way to understand borders and sanctuary,” Chasin said.
Zina Goodall, the project director for Writing On It All and a Lang alumna, recalled her frustration as a student concerning the lack of social spaces around campus, referring to the addition of the University Center.
“But it is cool to come back and then see that now the administration is wanting to incorporate like the student voice into the process of rethinking those spaces,” Goodall said.
Current students echoed Goodall’s frustrations but remained optimistic after coming out of the event.
“I would love to see more collaborative spaces that occupy the social setting and create this partially activism and partially poetry,” Recht-Appel said. “This space is an amalgam of all the good things that are happening at Lang.”
Photo by Seung Won Baik