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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

CWRU Refuses to Say What Students Objected To in Mural Celebrating Women in STEM

Posted By on Wed, Feb 14, 2018 at 1:06 PM

  • photo via Case Western Reserve/Facebook reported this week that a mural at Case Western Reserve University celebrating women in STEM would be removed at the end of the academic year due to student complaints.

The mural, painted by local artist Rachel Latina, "aimed to combat stereotypes in math and science by representing the female faces of the fields," according to the University when the piece was commissioned last year. That would be in keeping with Case's stated goal of diversifying images on campus, a goal spearheaded by the Office of Inclusion, Diversity and Equal Opportunity and which includes the "Trailblazer Project" in the Kelvin Smith Library, celebrating alumni of color. 

A university spokesperson declined to elaborate on what exactly students objected to in Latina's mural. Painted in a colorful pop-art style, the mural combines diverse faces of young women with engineering material. It looks almost like a comic-book spread. (Images from here.)

Much of Latina's work, available on her website, is painted with similar color and flair.

But when Scene asked Case to elaborate on student objections — what were the nature of the complaints? — a spokesperson merely reiterated the comment already provided to

"The mural was commissioned specifically to celebrate women in engineering and has drawn praise from many for both its aesthetic appeal and its message. Some have objected to the representation of women and discussed their issues with staff at the university’s Flora Stone Mather Center for Women. After learning about these concerns at the close of 2017, the department chair explored potential options to address them. Ultimately, he embraced the concept of a rotating series of murals for that space—a new one roughly every two years—with selections overseen by a student committee and including the Mather Center’s director."  (Italics added.)

Great. Obviously. We get it. But what were the complaints? What about the representation of women was objectionable, in the students' view? Was it a matter of aesthetic preference? Did students feel that the imagery objectified women? Did they feel that the mural was counterproductive?

Scene reached out to Dr. Lisa Nielson, the director at the Flora Stone Mather Center for women, where students had reportedly discussed their complaints. Nielson referred us back to CWRU media relations. She said she did know the specific nature of student complaints but was "not at liberty" to disclose them. The complaints, she said, were reported in confidence.

(We weren't seeking student names or anything. We were honestly just trying to understand — even in a general way — why students were bothered by the imagery.)

Artist Rachel Latina, when reached by Scene, called the whole episode an "unfortunate situation."

"No one is right or wrong here," she said. "As CWRU is a private university, their priority is their students, and I will respect their decision however I wish to move on and continue with my work."

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