Union Director’s office starts ‘Bigot,’ ‘Ugly’ campaigns

By Megan McNamara

If you’ve walked on the Quad recently, you have probably noticed the word “bigot” spray-chalked in large blue block letters. It is part of a new campaign, I-Change, to generate dialogue about stereotypes and preconceived notions.

“I’ve seen people do a double-take, and that’s the point. It is designed to challenge people’s opinions,” said Mike Buehlman, senior in LAS and a member of the I-Change group on Facebook. “Stereotypes and prejudices are allowed to perpetuate through apathy. By combating those stereotypes, you can reverse that type of negative thinking.”

According to the I-Change Web site, the campaign is about community-building.

The Web site states that “with almost 40,000 students on campus, it is easy to get lost in our differences. We oftentimes use those differences to segregate ourselves from others, leading to daily actions and thoughts that keep our campus community divided. It is the mission of I-Change to challenge those thoughts and actions.”

The campaign was initiated by the Illini Union Director’s Office.

“The whole thing has been in the works for one year,” said Paul Richardson, intern in the Illini Union Director’s Office and senior in LAS. “We got this idea from a visit to Penn State, where they had a similar program,” Richardson said. “The majority of people who make up the group are volunteers, friends of mine and people who have heard about it through word of mouth.”

Every two weeks, the group unleashes a new poster around campus. The posters are black and contain an offensive word, followed by a series of questions aimed to encourage discussion.

“We write offensive words like ‘bigot’ for the shock value. It’s a marketing strategy to get people talking,” Richardson said.

The group addresses everything from profanity in public places to stereotypes about the Greek system.

According to their Web site, this week marks the kick-off of the “Ugly” campaign, which asks: “Do you think all sorority girls are stupid? Do you think all fraternity guys are drunks? Do you think all engineers have no social life?”

Some students have been confused by the ‘bigot’ campaign.

“I saw a girl point to the word ‘bigot’ chalked on the Quad and say ‘that’s gay,'” Buehlman said. “I know that some people have been reacting negatively to it, but I think that says more about the people reacting negatively to it than about the campaign’s value.”

Others have been upset or angered.

“I thought it was vandalism,” said Eve Winiarski, senior in Education. “But once I figured it out, it made more sense. I think it’s at least a way of getting people’s attention. I’m not sure that people would look at the posters if there weren’t things spray-painted on the Quad, and the posters have something important to say.”

According to the Web site, the campaign offers suggestions of things that students can all “change on a daily basis to eliminate stupidity, rudeness, ugliness and bigotry.”