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Campus Stories


Diversity in the campus visual landscape

June 19, 2017
By Whitney Helm

A photo of Helen Brace Emerson is now in the Wright Museum of Art.
Photo of Helen Brace Emerson installed this summer in the Wright Museum of Art.

Born out of a Sustained Dialogue group, the diversity of Beloit’s history will now be reflected through campus artwork.

A committee of seven members from different areas of campus has been collecting names of notable faculty, staff, and students, who made an impact during their time at Beloit. Committee members include: Director of the Wright Museum of Art Joy Beckman, College Archivist Fred Burwell, Assistant Professor of Critical Identity Studies M. Shadee Malaklou, Abigail McCully’18, Director of Strategic Research and Planning Ruth Vater, Professor of Art George Williams, and Teddy Williams ’18

“We wanted to make the visual landscape better tell our story,” says Ruth.

M. Shadee Malaklou says it’s important that students of color see themselves reflected on campus.

“The process, especially learning about the contributions and successes of former students of color, has been quite illuminating, and has made me hungry to learn more about what histories are not being told about this institution but which are nonetheless part of its becoming. What I hope will be accomplished by the addition of these portraits is that students of color will feel a sense of belonging on campus, and a sense of excitement and possibility about Beloit as their home,” she says.

The committee searched for “perfect pairings”—someone who should be recognized and a space on campus where it makes sense for them to be recognized. After the pairing was found, it was then up to the committee members to meet with residents of the building to have them approve the new artwork.

The first portrait of Helen Brace Emerson was installed in the Wright Museum this summer. Helen, who was the wife of longtime professor Joseph Emerson, established the art department at Beloit in 1892. She donated her collection of photographs and art books to start what is now known as The Wright Museum of Art. She served as the curator of the collections until her death in 1920.

Another portrait in the works is of Mabel Lee, who was head of the women’s physical education program for four years and was widely considered a thorn in the side of many Beloit men at the time. She stopped men from working out nude in the Smith Building, a then male-dominated space, so that she and her women’s team could work out there. She also introduced intramural sports teams to the women’s program, including volleyball, bowling, and field hockey to name a few, which built on her belief that physical education was something for all women, not just the varsity athletes. Her portrait will be near the weight room in the Field House and will go up later this year.

The committee is open to suggestions for portraits and new members. Contact Ruth for more information.