Montclair State’s fifth annual Day of Unity featured “Dear World”—a unique portrait project which used photography to tell the story of each faculty member and student in attendance on Thursday, Feb. 4.
“Dear World” has captured the stories of over 40,000 people and has been published in more than 30 different countries since it was founded in 2009 and, last week, it joined Montclair State to help celebrate the diversity of this campus. Introduced by a social media campaign with the tag #DearMontclairState, the 2016 Day of Unity encouraged the university community to share their stories during a photoshoot last Thursday.
Participants were asked, “If you had one story to share with the world, what would you say?” Each person wrote words on their skin that encapsulated their life story or personal motto and “Dear World” representatives captured these messages through photography. The Day of Unity culminated in a keynote speaker and photo release that evening.
“I think this year’s vision for Day of Unity was a huge success and highlighted the voices from within our own community,” said Brian Edwards, Coordinator for the LGBTQ Center. “It was also so wonderful to see students, faculty, staff and employees participate in this day this year.”
Montclair State’s Day of Unity was founded in 2012, after several bias threats were made toward the LGBTQ community. These threats, which read “Die Fags,” “you will die soon Faggots,” and “Fags will die on 2/7,” were written in marker in the Student Center in late January of 2012. President Susan Cole responded with a Unity Rally on Feb. 7, the same day the threats were to be carried out. Day of Unity has continued every year since then as a day to reaffirm unity and support among the individuals which make up the campus community.
Rajhon White, a senior and the President of the Student Government Association, chose the message, “Faith is my anchor.” He spoke of life’s struggles and the tests that he has faced, just like every human being. He said that his “willingness to roll with the punches and keep pressing forward” was put to the test. “When I think about how was able to move forward, I credit faith as being that factor to keep me focused,” White said. “When I felt alone or abandoned, [I knew] that my faith in God, humanity and love was always present. I believe that God created me for a reason and every trial and tribulation is a sign of an even brighter day.”
Dr. Karen Pennington, Vice President of Student Development and Campus Life, chose the message, “I have an idea.” She explained that the faculty members who work alongside her suggested this phrase since it “epitomizes” her problem-solving process and they hear the phrase coming from her mouth often. “I like to remain current if not forward thinking and spend time thinking of new ways of doing things,” Pennington said. “I try to make our division as creative as we can in meeting the needs of students. I believe that thinking, changing, growing and evolving in thought and deed [is] important to being the best person and student affairs professional I can be.”
Fatima deCarvalho, Associate Dean of Students, chose the message, “Some run their mouth, I run my business.” She first heard this saying from Margaree Coleman-Carter, the Dean of Students, and it “resonated” with her. “In life, you will meet many naysayers and people with opinions [and] suggestions on what you should do or how you should handle situations,” said deCarvalho. “If allowed, they can veer you off your path. I chose to allow others to have their say, but at the end of the day, I will always focus on the goal, the task or the job at hand and completing it to the best of my ability.”
Shane Jones-Rust, a Junior English Major, wrote the message, “Trans is beautiful.” He chose to be photographed shirtless, exposing his chest compression binder and wanted his statement to make other members of the LGBTQ community on campus feel comfortable to come to the event and tell their stories as well. “It wasn’t merely a shameless ploy to get people to utilize Dear World during their time here,” Jones-Rust said. “Being transgender is an enormous part of who I am. It has opened up many opportunities for me, despite some people viewing it as a negative thing, despite people feeling sorry for me, despite everything — being transgender has made me stronger and I acknowledge that every day.”
Captain Kieran Barrett of the University Police Department chose the message, “Victims become Survivors.” He explained that this truth was something he learned many years ago, during his early years as a UPD detective. He was investigating a sexual violence case and he had deemed the investigation as one that was “very difficult” and the victim as one that was “too optimistic.” After he had concluded that he was too busy to find the person responsible, Barrett ended up spending six hours in the Blanton Hall atrium having a conversation with the victim which led to the a successful end to the investigation. He credits this success to the “courage and foresight” of the victim. “Victims do become survivors, if we care to give the time to listen as individuals and a community — the very least that we can do,” said Barrett.
Tara Zurlo, Director of Academic Success and Retention Programs, chose the message, “Learning to love the parts that no one claps for.” Originally by Rudy Francisco, these words remain a constant challenge for Zurlo and push her to love every part of herself every day. “It hits me in the gut every time,” she said. “It challenges me to think about the times I’m jealous, moody, vindictive, judgmental or exhausted; the days when I feel ugly, unloved, weak, insecure or just not enough; [and] to remember the days I yell too much and hug too little, break promises, miss deadlines, drive like a jerk or get nothing accomplished on my to-do list. I carry all these emotions and thoughts around with me every day but I don’t reveal them and I most certainly don’t hold them up for others to see. These parts of me are what makes me perfectly imperfect and fully worthy of applause.”
Julie Fleming, Associate Director of Student Involvement, chose the message, “Choose authenticity.” She explained that being true to oneself is “the ultimate form of self-care.” Fleming continued, “After years of pretending to be happy and doing things to please other people, I am choosing authenticity for myself and the people I surround myself with. I am working on being who I really am in all facets of my life.”