OBERLIN — “Fat.” “Ugly.” “Stupid.”
Those are words that Oberlin and Wellington students have been called or have used to describe a classmate.
Langston Middle School student Tali Brown said she has heard those words used to describe a classmate, but it wasn’t until she participated in the “This is me” project through Common Ground’s Life School program that she realized what impact those words could have.
That project was presented to the public on Wednesday as part of an artist reception at the Firelands Association for the Visual Arts. The pictures will remain on display through April 27.
As part of the “This is me” project, students were asked to pick a negative word used to describe themselves or that they have used to describe someone.
They then were asked to embody that word, take a picture and discuss their feelings at that time. Finally, students were asked to focus on their strengths to take a “happy photo,” representative of a bully-free world.
Tali worked with her friends and classmates Angie Clement and Eddie Burgos, all seventh-graders at Langston. The three chose words such as “midget” and “white boy” to affix on their faces and bodies as a photographer took a picture.
Tali said the project was an emotional one, as well as a way for others to express themselves.
“People get talked about and we just wanted to express ourselves, but we were afraid to,” she said. “So we got to do this project to express ourselves.’’
“They can just pick it out and say what they wanted to say without everyone looking at them,” he said.
Lydia Lee, a Common Ground program facilitator who worked with students on the project, said the goal was to get students to open up and understand one another. She said the project surprised some students, who didn’t realize that words could be hurtful.
Others, she said, discussed being victims of bullying.
“One student said she can now relate to someone who has been bullied,” she said. “She was able to see how our focus makes a difference.”
High school students from Lorain County Academy, as well as seventh-grade students from Langston Middle School and McCormick Middle School, participated through the Life School program.
The 10-session program, held at Common Ground, is geared toward students in grades six through 12. Life School encourages responsibility and empowers teens to make healthy choices and positive decisions, according to the organization.
Sixth-grade students at Langston and McCormick middle schools also participated in the “My Lens, My Life” photo project, to include photos of true reflections of their lives and how they see the world. Those students were given disposable cameras and were asked to take photos of important places or people in their lives.
Although Common Ground has organized the “My Lens, My Life” project in the past, it was the first time the organization has explored bullying through a photographic art project.
“It’s a way to bring awareness to current world views and how bullying and negative labels can impact lives,” Lee said.
Lee said the goal was to have students who participated in the bullying project to “embody” the feelings that come with negative labels. Those feelings show through in the pictures, she said.
Lee said the goal was also to have students focus on their strengths, not the negatives, by picking out positive words to describe themselves.
Tali, who described herself as funny, lovable and beautiful, said she believes the project will help students treat one another better.
She said she was surprised to hear the story of a boy who was going to kill himself after school due to bullying, until a person was kind to him and changed his mind. She said, in the past, classmates have gained friends and respect from their peers by putting others down.
“This activity made people think about what they’re doing, how they’re making other people feel,” she said. “I stopped calling people names.”
TO SEE EXHIBIT
- Firelands Association for the Visual Arts, 39 S. Main St., Oberlin, through April 27. The studio is open
- 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday.
- For more information, visit www.favagallery.org.