‘Fearless’ LGBT Photo Exhibit Stolen at Bryant
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Indeed, it may be a little more “Fearless” as a result.
About 60 photographs from “Fearless”, an exhibit Los Angeles-based photographer/educator Jeff Sheng has toured throughout the country since 2006, were discovered missing from the Bryant Center by school officials Friday morning. In addition to the photos, featuring high school and college lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender athletes, signs promoting Sheng’s lecture at the Unistructure later Friday morning were also taken.
While the photos remain missing and the incident remains under investigation, plans are under way for a campuswide response, said Nanci Weinberger, professor of applied psychology, who was among a group of a half-dozen faculty members and students from Bryant Pride, the school’s LGBT student organization, who met yesterday afternoon with Dr. J. Thomas Eakin, vice president and dean of students.
Bryant's turn to be Fearless
The result, she said, will be called “Bryant Is Fearless.” While still in the planning stages, she said the initiative will be inspired by Sheng’s exhibit. “We’ll put together a photo shoot featuring members of the Bryant community, each with one gay and one straight, and have them distributed throughout the campus, in response to the cowardice of whoever took the photos,” Weinberger said.
School officials have determined there is insufficient evidence at this point to treat the incident as a hate crime, said Tracie Sweeney, director of public relations, adding that the investigation has been turned over to the Smithfield Police Department. A campuswide email has been sent asking for information about the missing photos, she added.
Sheng, who has toured his photographs without incident to more than 60 locations, including high schools, colleges, conferences, ESPN headquarters in Bristol, CT, and the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, said he had no clue or sense of the motive for the removal of the photographs. The photos, in which athletes stare directly at the camera in uniform or workout gear after having just finished a practice, were delivered to campus and posted throughout Bryant Center on Tuesday by Bryant Pride members, he said.
When Sheng arrived Friday and was taken to see the exhibit in advance of his talk, he was greeted by empty walls where once his photos had hung. Apart from the absence of the photos, there was no trace of vandalism or grafitti where the photos were displayed, and a search of garbage disposals by campus buildings and grounds staff failed to locate them, he said.
Weinberger said the time of the photos’ removal has been narrowed down to 6:45 to 7:30 a.m., when students generally do not have access to the Bryant Center. “The building’s not fully open at that time. Whoever did it probably got in by following people who work there,” she said.
Other than the missing photos, which he said were replaceable, Sheng said he enjoyed his visit to Bryant. “About 50 or 60 students came to my talk, and they were wonderful. Afterward, I had lunch with the faculty, and they were apologetic. It was a great visit,” he said.
Photos in plain sight
Jonathan DeCosta, president of Bryant Pride, said the photos were not arranged in a traditional exhibition, in one location, but instead on and around stairwells. “It’s meant to be an organic art show, not a gallery,” he said. “The purpose is to have the photos in public places where students can’t help but see them,” Weinberger said.
DeCosta, a senior, was unsure if the LGBT community was victimized, or if this was an act of random vandalism. “I don’t believe you can ascertain if this is targeted," he said. "It could’ve been someone who decided, ‘I don’t want to see this’ who is challenged as an athlete. It could’ve been someone who was drunk or for giggles tore it down,” he said.
Students react with embarassment, anger
Avery Stone, a sophomore at Amherst College who recently posed in her ice hockey gear for inclusion in "Fearless", visited the campus Friday to speak to first-year classes about her role in the exhibit and her life as an out athlete. She also was taken to see the emptied stairwells before she spoke to Bryant students, and while Sheng chose not to speak about the theft in his talk, Stone took up the issue in the classroom. “Some kids dismissed it as a prank," she said. "Other kids were embarrassed and couldn’t believe it happened on their campus. Some were mad."
Stone felt the incident should be treated as a hate crime, acknowledging the subject matter of the photos. “The cross between athleticism and homosexuality can be a taboo,” she said.
The biggest disappointment, said Weinberger, is that Bryant is the first campus where Sheng has encountered trouble with his exhibit. “It’s heartbreaking for me, and the students are disgusted and saddened," she said. "They feel this doesn’t accurately represent Bryant."
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