Student Uses Art to Affirm American Values Under Attack

Student Uses Art to Affirm American Values Under Attack

Student Uses Art to Affirm American Values Under Attack

September 18, 2001

by Lauren Marshall, Office of Public Affairs   

What do you do, when there is little that you can do but think, wonder, wait?  In the wake of the World Trade Center Tragedy, many Columbia students have wanted to help, but there have been few outlets. But Marcus Bleyer, GS '04 found a way to reach out in support of relief workers, express his grief and confusion over the attack, and ultimately tighten the student community through art.    

On Thursday afternoon, Marcus, an art history student, lined College Walk with a 50-foot-long butcher paper letter addressed to downtown relief workers. As students walked past Low Library on their way to and from class, they picked up colored markers and added a note to the every-day heroes working to right the most cruel act of human destruction witnessed in their lifetime. By 5:30, the paper was a rainbow of hundreds of thoughts, poems and thanks from Columbia students.    

"It struck me that there was a lot of need for people on campus to voice their feelings and show their support for the relief workers, who have already lost friends and loved ones, yet continue to put their lives on the line day after day in the hope of finding survivors," said Bleyer.    

The letter drew the campus together through a mutual project and offered a forum for students to share their confusion over the terrorist attack and speculate about its impact on their future.  "There is no reason for what happened," said Bleyer.  "But it is very clear that our principles are being attacked. I think this letter gives us a chance to take a look at those values and really understand what they mean, and ask ourselves where, if at all, America is straying from them."    

The project itself, sprawled across College Walk, is an expression of America's core values of freedom, security, justice and unity, things that Americans often take for granted, but have heard much talk of in recent days. Students coordinating the project hope that by examining those values they will be reinforced in the difficult days to come, as anger and the possibility of retaliation against Arab Americans grips the country.    

"Marcus is Jewish and I am Arabic American," said Osama, a student who helped with the project.  "Marcus wanted to do this to slow people down from acting blindly against the American Arab population, who came to this country to get away from oppression. We can let this crisis degenerate our society or use it to reaffirm our values. Our country needs to be shining right now."    

Osama pointed to a poem by the Persian poet Sa'ad written on a corner of the College Walk letter that sums up the sentiment expressed by relief workers, students and Americans alike:  "Human beings are parts of the same body, of one essence and if one part should feel pain, the rest should not be calm or still."    

The relief workers letter is one of several creative projects that Columbia students began in their desire to do something in support of New York City.  In addition to donating blood and submitting their names for volunteer service, other efforts include a bake sale by Barnard College to raise donations for relief efforts and a drive to collect supplies for relief workers.