It was the beginning of fall semester this year, and I was sitting on a bench on the first floor of Huntsman Hall, the one right by the stairs that leads down to the forum. I was in between classes and feeling that anxiousness and dread that overcomes me whenever I’m in Huntsman. It’s an internal monologue full of doubts about lacking direction, where my own purposelessness nags at me until I get frustrated at myself.
On this particular afternoon, as I wrestled with these feelings, I looked up at the nine–yard–long wall in front of me. It was painted white and was completely blank. "I feel so soulless," I thought to myself. Could this wall have something to do with it? By giving me nothing to look at, perhaps this blank, white wall was instructing me about how I was supposed to feel in Huntsman, and how I was supposed to interact in the space. I was supposed to talk about meetings and academics, and not about things that sparked joy in me. Even if my friends and I had never explicitly noticed this wall before, it could have been affecting us this whole time, weaving subconsciously into our dampened conversations.
I knew I had to do something about it. The thought of creating public art made me afraid, and this was fear that I had to overcome. I enlisted the help of a friend who was an art enthusiast, and together, we set about making something that would bring a bit of life and energy to the space. We hardly had any money for materials, so we bought a giant piece of paper and used some of my old paints and National Geographic magazines. I liked to think that the pictures showed the far–reaching impact that business has on every aspect of human and natural life on Earth, beyond the barriers of time and culture, or something pretentious like that. But the truth is that this was a total experiment, and my friend and I had no idea what we were doing.
We left the finished piece up that Sunday night. But by 9 a.m. on Monday, they had taken it down. When I tried to get the piece back, I was marched into Lee Kramer’s office. Lee cited some rule that only workers in a certain union in Philadelphia are legally allowed to put up and take down things on walls. I pleaded with him, explaining that the students should have something nice to look at rather than feel directionless and vacant when they walk through Huntsman Hall. But at that point, to the institution, I was a pest to be gotten rid of, rather than a genuine student trying to communicate something that I felt was wrong.
Now I sit on the same bench six months later, and it’s almost the end of the school year. After creating this public art project, I was inspired to study organizational design, so that I can help organizations create internal spaces that bring positive cultures and high levels of happiness and wellbeing to the people that walk through them. But I still feel lost and soulless each time I enter Huntsman, and I still have dampened conversations with my friends there. The wall is still completely blank. They never put anything up on it. Not a single thing this entire school year. No ounce of color. No trace of life.