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By: Doris Pameros and Vicki L. Meloney
The weeks following the 2016 Presidential election saw an unprecedented rise in hate speech, hate crimes, vandalism and violence against minorities and people of color. According to the FBI hate crime statistics, the day after the election there was a 127% increase in the number of hate crimes reported and that number continued to grow for the next 10 days.
It appeared that our new president had unlocked a Pandora’s Box of white nationalism that gave confidence to those that were interested in demonizing “the others”. This whirlwind of negativity became a constant feed on national news that was both upsetting and overwhelming.
As much as we were hoping that the climate of hate was a momentary reaction to the election, documented hate groups are on the rise. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of active hate groups has jumped from 917 in 2016 to 954 in 2017.
More and more, incidences of hate groups are infiltrating college campuses. Open public spaces, young minds and the potential for physical confrontation make campuses ripe for hate groups to target. The Anti-Defamation League recorded 290 incidents of hate crimes on college campuses in 2017, a surge over 2016 and earlier years.
“Art does not come from thinking, but from responding.” —Corita Kent
When white supremacist recruitment posters showed up on the campus of Kutztown University in rural Pennsylvania in February of 2017, the Communication Design Department didn’t get mad, they got creative. Although the University publicly denounced these groups and their messages, Vicki Meloney, an Associate Professor in the Communication Design Department felt compelled to do more.
She quickly sent an email to her students offering extra credit to anyone that found one of the posters and turned it into something beautiful, such as origami or a canvas for positive artwork, transforming from a message of hate to a message of beauty.
The email made its way to social media with an outpouring of interest and support. Within 24 hours the post received more than 20,000 “likes” and had almost 2,000 comments all with an outpouring of support. The response was so great, that her email inbox was flooded with requests from local and national news organizations wanting to know more about her offer to the students. Almost everyone that commented wanted to see what the students had created.
Hate had reared its ugly head on the KU campus and the design educators in the Communication Design Department, felt obligated to take action, seeing this as a teachable moment in history. It seemed that the email had hit a collective nerve and ignited an interest that demanded a response.
In a show of solidarity, they joined forces with Doris Palmeros, an Assistant Professor at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas and simultaneously held a community based image-making workshop that would promote anti-hate messages in a bipartisan atmosphere.
The original workshop was organized quickly and without funding. They pulled together whatever materials and equipment they had available. They utilized simple low-tech art supplies such as ink, paper, stamp kits and brushes.
Collectively more than 100 people showed up in the two locations. These workshops were a place to share a space, for the purposes of making anti-hate images and messages. This unexpectedly became a place for communities to heal, bond, create productive dialogue and perpetuate positivity. It was a way to deal with increasing hateful rhetoric and the public display of white supremacist posters. This ultimately, became the “social” in social responsibility and a powerful antidote to the hopelessness.
After the initial workshop was covered in the local news in Kutztown, Professor Meloney was contacted by other organizations that asked her to duplicate their efforts in nearby communities. The two professor’s quickly realized that they had become design activists and were ready to embrace the movement.
Replace-the-Hate is Born
Replace-the-Hate is a grassroots effort led by design educators that builds communal ties, renounces hate and rejoices in diversity through creative expressions and community art-making events.
In the months that followed the pair conducted several more workshops for college students, grade school students, design educators and community leaders. The workshops and accompanying lecture promote design advocacy and compel the participants out of despondency and complacency by giving them a collective space where they can use their conscientious voices and shared values to create individual messages of peace, love, hope and tolerance.
The work produced in the collective workshops was amazing and inspiring. Design students with incredible creative talent and small children armed with stamp letters and ink pads all worked together to create messages of inclusion. The work was large and small, and pictorial and typographic and beautiful and raw. Some pieces took 10 minutes, while others took hours.
As the workshops advanced, the image making materials improved. Participants utilized silk screen techniques and experimented on an antique letterpress. The focus evolved into using techniques that would produce multiple copies that would allow the messages to be dispersed into the world.
Replace-the-Hate has been self-perpetuating and has transcended the initial hate filled posters that were originally displayed on campus. In addition to the workshops, Replace-the-Hate has sprouted community collaborations, presentations at national and international design conferences, a collaborative anthropological journal article and a traveling gallery show.
By putting the power of art and design in the hands of the average citizen we are harnessing the power to initiate thought, promote change, renounce hate and reinforce an environment of inclusion. The creative process and community gathering give an alternative reaction to the fear, sadness and anger that is felt when racism, bigotry, prejudice and the threat of violence appear.