Unity Mural Comes Together to Honor University Community

Graphic Design Communication students spearhead the creation of a mural aiming to unite student body and celebrate campus diversity.

By Jordan Durfee ’24
Four people pose in front of the Unity Mural
Denielle Emans, Assistant Professor of Graphic Design Communication, with graphic design students Kristen Hearrold ’24, Alexandra Houle ’23, and then-junior Sherisa Smith in front of the Unity Mural that was painted during the Student Academic Showcase and Honors in April.

BRISTOL, R.I. – With contributions from numerous student clubs in its design and creation, a Unity Mural emerged from the minds and hands of many creators across the university community at the end of the spring semester.

It was a collaborative project that was a year in the making, led by Denielle Emans, Assistant Professor of Graphic Design Communication, and Kristen Hearrold ’24, a Graphic Design Communication major and Communication & Media Studies minor from Taunton, Mass., bolstered by students from the Graphic Design Communication program. Their inspiration was drawn from the university’s Racism Stops With Me campaign as a launchpad to a collaborative project, uniting students from various backgrounds in representing the diversity and inclusivity of Roger Williams University.

Working on this mural empowered the design students to “put theory into practice,” Emans said. “You want to hear and work with and learn from community members before you go into active design,” explained Emans. She tasked her students to take concepts and ideas and bring them to life through collaboration with the community it would represent, truly getting to know the people they are working with beyond the design itself.

With that goal, the graphic design students each collaborated with a club – the Multicultural Student Union, Hispanic and Latinx Student Association, Women of Color Club, Barbershop Club, Rhythm and Roots Cultural Dance Club, the Asian American Alliance, Hillel, and the Sexuality and Gender Alliance – on campus, getting their input and working their ideas into various designs, which would later merge into a larger mural concept.

A group of eight people stand in front of the Unity Mural on the quad at ż
During the Student Academic Showcase and Honors in April, students, faculty, and staff were invited to add their own unique contributions to the Unity Mural.

After a year of brainstorming and designing, the mural was ready to be painted during the Student Academic Showcase and Honors in April. The Graphic Design Communication students gathered their collaborators and set up an artist’s space to create the Unity Mural out on the quad, where all students, faculty, and staff were invited to add their own unique contributions to the piece. The Construction Management Club helped build the four panels that make up a 16-foot-by-6-foot canvas on which the mural was painted and displayed.

“We went into this with the intention of designing with and not for,” said Alexandra Houle ’23, from Thomaston, Conn., who plans to pursue advocacy work through the medium of graphic design.

In a project such as this, “you have to be conscious of everyone’s perspectives and backgrounds,” added Hearrold, who plans to pursue a master’s degree in graphic design.

“We wanted to bring everybody together to celebrate the work,” said Emans. “To be part of it and actually visualize, through action, what unity can look like.”

Beyond the university community, Emans also had the students collaborate with an international creative, Stefan Messam, an illustrator and designer and faculty member at Zayed University in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, who specializes in large mural designs. Messam shared ideas, encouragement, and inspiration from his own work and experience, helping the ż students dream and hone their design.

The students said that the mural represents the group’s desire for a unified campus and world.

A student paints the Unity Mural
A student paints the Unity Mural in April.

“For me, it represents coexisting with other people in as positive a way as you can,” said then-junior Sherisa Smith, a Graphic Design Communication major and American Sign Language, Photography, and Chinese triple minor from East Hartford, Conn. The mural is meant to bring people together, both in action and representation, and inspire people to connect with one another, while also celebrating the diversity of the ż student body, she said.

After it was completed and displayed during SASH, the mural was installed in Global Heritage Hall, Room G12 – one of the graphic design labs on campus – in an effort to transform the space and display the hard work of students in the program.

“We all care so deeply about this. To leave something like the mural here, and possibly inspire people in the future, well, I think that's pretty special,” said Houle.

The student team emphasized that this mural does not represent the end of working toward unity and inclusion. They hope that the university community will sit with the design and allow it to impact and inspire them – not just creatively, but also in their interactions with the people they come across throughout their lives. Their message is that there “is always more work to be done, and more voices to be heard and included.”