Rider University and Artworks, Trenton’s downtown visual arts center, recently unveiled three new murals in the university’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion.
Painted by local artists Leon Rainbow, Marlon Davila and David Gillespie, in collaboration with Rider University students and Trenton high school students, the murals feature a number of symbols to illustrate the wealth of diversity within the Rider community, Dr. Pamela Pruitt, executive director of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, said in a prepared statement released by the university.
“The symbolism in these murals represents the Rider community in broad ways,” she said in the statement. “The whole university is reflected in this space.”
Staying true to the center’s mission to be a welcoming place for any person, the murals feature a variety of imagery to embrace and represent a range of ethnicities, gender identities, sexual orientations, religions, abilities and backgrounds.
The artwork is a product of a site-specific mural project including collaboration among the three artists, three Rider students (freshman Bridget Gum, senior Jerome Manning and freshman Faith Weiser) and three Trenton students (Vanessa Barragan-Luna, Sha’ni Parker and Hainslye Peralta), as well as feedback from current students utilizing the center.
Led by senior artist Rainbow, along with assistant artists Gillespie and Davila, the students virtually participated in three online sessions focusing on history, background, styles, techniques, design and composition. All artists, as well as the six participating students, then collaboratively sketched several renderings, which incorporated symbolism, color and concepts provided from student feedback, according to the statement.
“We incorporated the students’ feedback and concept sketches into final design,” Jesse Vincent, Artworks’ education and public project manager, said in the statement. “Our focus was to include a variety of symbols and imagery viewers would recognize, but also allowing room for each viewer to connect and create their own personal meaning.”
The finished product is the center’s three main walls popping with exuberant colors and symbols.
“The intention of this project is to make every Rider student from diverse backgrounds feel welcomed, inspired and proud to be their authentic selves, and to inspire leaders committed to promoting equity and inclusion on campus and in the world,” Dr. Leanna Fenneberg, vice president for Student Affairs, said in the statement.
The first mural, located in the center’s main lobby, features eight hands, illustrating a spectrum of diverse skin tones, positioned in a circle, supporting one another. A quote from spiritual guru Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar positioned in the center of the circled hands, reads, “You are never alone or helpless. The force that guides the stars guides you too,” while butterflies, a symbol that represents gender fluidity, and puzzle pieces accent the mural.
The second and largest mural displays a rainbow gradient spanning the length of the wall and features a globe held up by two hands, a raised fist, puzzle pieces, butterflies and an icon of a person in a wheelchair wearing a cape with an equal sign overlaid on the wheels. The words “unidad en la diversidad,” which translate to “unity in diversity,” are positioned above the globe.
The final mural resides in the Identity-Based Student Organizations Work Room and portrays civil rights activist Ruby Bridges, who bravely desegregated William Frantz Elementary School in Louisiana at age six. Next to the young girl is a quote from Bridges, “Don’t follow the path. Go where there’s no path and begin the trail.” The words “no place for hate,” a peace sign, puzzle pieces and butterflies encompass the image of the girl.
Rider’s new space for its Center for Diversity and Inclusion opened in September. The name change and physical center were a vision of Pruitt’s and reflect back on previous roots of Rider’s Multicultural Center, which debuted in 1992, according to the statement.
Today, the center provides support for 23 identity-based clubs and student organizations, and encourages a sense of belonging to all who visit there. It also promotes education and community around issues of inclusion for all members of the Rider community, according to the statement.