Cal State East Bay professor turns hate into art, movement

Photo of Cal State East Bay professor turns hate into art, movement

HAYWARD — As a scholar, community organizer and artist, G.T. Reyes is no stranger to talking about discrimination, cultural suppression and racial oppression.

But it’s a familiarity that was tested last month when five political and cultural posters on Reyes’ office door at Cal State East Bay were defaced.

The posters, all crossed out with an indelible, purple marker, included one that read “Black Lives Matter.” Another vandalized poster read, “This is a safe zone. All students are welcome and valued here, whatever your ethnicity, sexual expression, gender identification, religion, political stance, or immigration status.”

The response crafted by Reyes — a quilt-like, paper art piece called #CrossThisOut, which juxtaposes empowering cultural and political messages with those seeking to debase it — has grown on social media into a budding movement that has popped up at schools and universities nationwide.

“What I wanted to do was really be thoughtful about a compelling situation that people could access and not have to initially choose to get into what actually happened,” Reyes, an assistant educational leadership professor, said in an interview.

“It’s rooted in the integrity and … it’s not that I don’t have rage, anger or righteous indignation, but I’ve learned over the years how to channel that, and I think people have to learn that. I think it just really tapped into that essence of people taking the high road, and I think that resonates with people,” he said.

The vandalism on Reyes’ door was discovered by a colleague, teacher education professor Lettie Ramirez, around 3 p.m. Nov. 29. Reyes soon learned that similar political and cultural posters on the door of educational leadership professor Mari Gray were also defaced.

It was an act that needed a quick response, Reyes said. As a lover of words, he had an idea: Why not play with the act of crossing out words?

“I wanted to do something that would cast attention but was simple enough so that you didn’t see a whole bunch of little text or little messages that require you to stop and read it as you walked by,” Reyes said.

“What I wanted was an effect in which you would not be able to help but notice something,” he said.

Using single words in bold text on printer paper, the goal was to create something that could inspire, provoke thought and create a dialogue “that would open up an explicit critique of systems of oppression,” Reyes said.

Words he chose to literally cross out with in red included anti-immigrant, homophobia, xenophobia, white supremacy, Islamophobia and racism. Others were more complex, such as heteronormativity, the belief that gender and respective roles are assigned to people based on their sex, or settler colonialism, the practice of immigrant settlers displacing indigenous people from an area and taking control of the land.

The references were placed next to others that weren’t crossed out, such as justice, love, liberation, community.

“When I was preparing to do the installation, I was also feeling an anxiety and physical response in my body that made me think that I was preparing for a physical fight,” Reyes said.

“I realized creating the quilt was part of the healing process and allowed me to channel things in a way that I knew how to confront the oppression for any unknown assailant, whoever it may be,” he said.

Reyes installed the quilt-like art piece Nov. 30 on his office door at Cal State East Bay and shared the experience, along with some photos, on his Facebook page. By the end of the day, he had received nearly 20 messages from Facebook users, asking if they could have a copy of the quilt for their classrooms or offices.

Since then, teachers and school administrators from across the nation, as far away as the East Coast and Southern California to ARISE High School in East Oakland, have shared photos with #CrossThisOut quilts in their classrooms or on their office doors. Some Cal State East Bay administrators and faculty members also have installed the quilt on their doors.

“The vandalism of Dr. Reyes’ and Dr. Gray’s office door is disturbing,” Cal State East Bay President Leroy Morishita said in a statement.

“However, the constructive response to the violation of their First Amendment rights is remarkable and something we can all learn from,” he said.

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