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ImagINe All the People …

Project enriches campus community through photography and personal narratives

Twenty-four members of the Swarthmore community have literally—and boldly—put themselves on display for a new initiative unveiled March 27 in Eldridge Commons. Designed to foster meaningful discussions about inclusion and diversity within the campus community, the ImagINe project, funded by a Community Development Grant (CDG) from the President’s Office, features a cross-section of faculty, staff, and students and is conceptually based on a diversity initiative in its third year at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD).    

            “This project is rooted in conversations about the definition of  ‘community’ and how we build community here at Swarthmore,” says Zenobia Hargust, human resources manager and ImagINe Committee chair. “We felt that the RISD model would help cultivate conversations about our differences and similarities.”

Pamela Prescod-Caesar, vice president for human resources, conceived the project after hearing about similar initiatives during a meeting of the national college and university human resources professional association to which she belongs. She brought the idea back to the College’s Diversity and Inclusion committee, then applied for a CDG, which was granted by the President’s Office.

“We felt a project of this type could help to move our community to collectively ‘ImagINe’ and cultivate spaces and possibilities where our unique differences and similarities could be understood, appreciated, and celebrated,” said Prescod-Caesar.

The photographic portraits, now on display in Eldridge Commons, feature subjects’ personal narratives, poetry, or artwork inscribed adjacent, around, or atop their photos. The technique has proven fertile ground for community engagement on the RISD campus, says project photographer Adam Mastoon, who drew inspiration from his own work to pioneer the powerful art form.

“A woman at RISD told me she saw the videos online before coming to campus, and she was always looking for the people she’d ‘met’ via the exhibit,” he says. “As she discovered the actual faces of those people around campus, she felt more connected to the community.”

The ImagINe project planners hope the endeavor will give the community a chance to look closely at itself and at one another as individuals.

“We hope that this project will help to inspire more good conversations and bring great recognition and appreciation to the amazing attributes we all bring to this place,” says Hargust.

Mastoon, who photographed Swarthmore participants during fall semester, was particularly struck by the subjects’ honesty and bravery in telling their stories.

“This group will lead the community into a deeper dialogue about self and diversity,” says the photographer. “All of us need opportunities like this to remember we have to strive to meet one another on a deeper level than what we perceive on the surface.”

+Click here to learn more about the project and to view all 24 portraits.