Building Bridges Initiative Will Promote Community Connections across Difference

Building Bidges llustration

As the spring semester begins, the university will launch Building Bridges, a public art and engagement initiative designed to foster new connections among UMass Amherst community members who come from greatly varied backgrounds and hold differing perspectives. It’s an opportunity, no matter what your role or job may be on campus, to become actively engaged.

The project includes a series of high-profile art installations, enrichment courses for staff, events and lectures. Together, these are intended to invite people with different personal backgrounds— across race, religion, class, immigration status, gender, sexual orientation, age, ability and nationality—to connect and strengthen community.

“In the fall, we embarked on the Hate Has No Home at UMass campaign to affirm the importance of respecting difference in our community,” says Enobong (Anna) Branch, associate chancellor for equity and inclusion and chief diversity officer. “This semester, we plan to offer several initiatives to foster community-building. The Building Bridges initiative speaks to the power of creative expression and engagement as a means to build connections across difference and create a more inclusive campus community.”

To achieve this, students, faculty and staff are invited to get involved in Building Bridges in a way that feels meaningful to them, whether by attending an event or contributing to one of the three core projects: a Building Bridges Art Installation; a course called Building Bridges: Our Immigrant Voices; and a course called Building Bridges: Showcasing Worker Artists at UMass. Full details on how to participate will be widely promoted in the coming weeks.

The Building Bridges Art Installation invites individuals to answer the questions: “What differences do you want to bridge and/or connect, and how can we accomplish this goal?” The responses will be written on 56 individual cards that, when assembled, will create a mosaic that spells out the words “building bridges.” These cards will make up two panels that will be displayed on a 12-foot tower emblazoned with the words “Building Bridges” in multiple languages. The result will be a large public art installation prominently displayed on campus.

“The Building Bridges Art Installation allows individual contributions to be assembled into a whole,” says director of Civic Engagement and Service Learning (CESL) and associate professor of architecture Joseph Krupczynski, who is involved with the project. “It suggests that even a community with many voices can find ways to create unity.”

The 11-week course "Building Bridges: Our Immigrant Voices" will bring together immigrant employees and others to create mini-projects that amplify the voices of immigrant employees on campus. Photographs and stories gathered in this course will be displayed around campus and will highlight the diversity of UMass Amherst as well as elevate the contributions of the campus’ immigrant employees.

The six-week course "Building Bridges: Showcasing Worker Artists at UMass" will bring together worker artists and others to explore ways of highlighting the art created by UMass Amherst employees. It aims to recognize essential workers—those who may clean the restrooms, serve food in dining halls, tend the grounds or engage in clerical tasks—and celebrate their artistic talents in a way that enriches the UMass Amherst community.

Anyone from the campus community can register for a course with Labor/Management Workplace Education, Division of Human Resources (L/MWE) here.

“We want this initiative to challenge the campus community to rethink who is important, who is valued,” says Joe Connolly, director of L/MWE. “For workers, it’s not just about their contributions as workers but for the highly diverse and talented human beings that they are. For example, there are so many workers who are also artists. Many times, their bosses and colleagues don’t even know that they have these extraordinary talents. We want to change that.”

In addition to the art installations, the semester will include several events tied to Building Bridges.

“We’re aiming to offer a variety of ways in which the campus community can get involved,” Branch says. “We’re hopeful that this university-wide initiative will inspire all members of our community to actively construct the campus climate they want.”

Members from L/MWE and CESL, along with many units from across campus, have been working collaboratively on Building Bridges since January 2017. Guided by a working group whose composition reflects the diversity of UMass Amherst, Krupczynski, Connolly and Jacob Carter, project coordinator for Building Bridges, have prioritized a participatory process for working group members to inform the design of this initiative.

“From the beginning, our approach has emphasized equity in voice and decision-making, bringing people together who typically don’t have the opportunity to participate, let alone shape, this kind of campus-wide effort,” says Carter.

“That collaborative approach is the only way that an initiative of this scale can authentically engage people who are feeling marginalized on campus,” says Sonia Lindop, a project manager at L/MWE and a member of the working group.

Building Bridges is a collaboration between many units and schools, including the Office of Equity and Inclusion, Human Resources, UMass Libraries, Auxiliary Enterprises, Residential Life; American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Professional Staff Union Unit B; University Staff Association/Massachusetts Teachers Association; Center for Latin American, Caribbean, and Latino Studies; Center for Multicultural Advancement and Student Success; College of Education; department of xommunication, and the American Institute of Architects Student Group.