"Redefinition" allowed students to give new meaning to words that are considered hurtful. (CHELSEA KATZ/ THE STATESMAN)
“Redefinition” allowed students to give new meaning to words that are considered hurtful. (CHELSEA KATZ/ THE STATESMAN)

At this year’s Redefinition event, which occurred on Nov.  6 in Langmuir College, students “redefined” hurtful words that they identified by popping balloons full of paint on canvas.

The goal of this event was to raise awareness to the campus community about how common words can offend people and how people can come and support one another through the negative experiences associated with these words.

Mergim Gjonbalaj, senior biochemistry major and co-coordinator of this event, said, “The purpose was proving to the people the diversity of struggle and pain and then creating something beautiful out of that and motivating them to create an environment where it would be more suitable for them to be safe and not have to have the feeling that words are gonna have negative impact anymore afterwards.”

This event consisted of two parts: an emotional component and an artistic element.

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The emotional component began with a video about a photographer having strangers pose with one another for a mini photo shoot. Initially it was awkward, but then people were able to come close to each other, as evidenced by body language. This foreshadowed the later segment of participants going into small group circles, primarily with people they did not know, and sharing their negative experiences. Both showed that when put in the right situation, people become willing and comfortable to share their stories, no matter how personal. This helped them realize that they were not alone and others feel similar emotions.

This event was also meant to break preconceptions about people and about these common but upsetting words. As Sarah Hubbs, senior social welfare and Hispanic languages and literature major and another event co-coordinator said, “Everyone’s gone through something and even though someone may look a certain way, it doesn’t necessarily define who they are but people automatically label them as having had that experience.”

Then Gjonbalaj said, “There’s a huge part of diversity in these pains and struggles that people get from these words, but why it’s overlooked, there’s just this common factor about it.” People, even friends, may unintentionally hurt others through these words, but by spreading awareness people can start to change this.

The artistic element consisted of throwing paint-filled balloons at a canvas full of the words people had written as having affected them the most. This shows that all types of hurt can be turned into beauty. Anything negative can be turned into something positive, and one way is through artistic, creative means, as done here. What was better was that it was done with others, further highlighting that there is always support around you, even though you may not think of it.

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This is an annual event, but what makes it different from past years is that this canvas will be displayed  as artwork in the Student Activity Center starting in the  spring. People can be reminded of the lessons learned from this experience and remember this first step in combatting this social stigma.

What is also different is that this year, Stony Brook’s community pledge, which had started in 2010, has been incorporated. According to Chris Weber, a graduate computer science student who works for the Assistant Dean of Students, “There’s a lot of negativity going on related to a lot of stuff that this program talked about like different words and labels and so this was one of our initiatives to combat that and maintain the positive aspects of the community and just kind of build up Stony Brook.”

Some points of this pledge include treating others fairly, being accountable for one’s own behavior, standing up for community dignity, respecting rights of others and celebrating and expressing pride in diversity.

This program, as Weber said, has hit on all the points of the pledge and recognizes the power of words. “People would say like oh sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me, but you know it’s not true was you could see from an event like this, words can be very powerful…I’m glad that it’s going on for a while and raising awareness to things, that’s the kind of thing we need.”

And from the reactions of the coordinators and participants alike, this event has done its job. Danissa Salazar, senior health science major and the third co-coordinator of this event, said, “I was mentally touched; I can’t imagine how many people have come in thinking one way and walked out completely changed, feeling empowered and feeling like they can make a difference in the world.”

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Also, Adrienne Esposito, an undeclared sophomore who did not know what to expect from this event, was really glad she came. “It basically made me feel like I was taking out evil because when we threw the balloons at the walls for the words that hurt us, it was great. We turned pain into something magical.”

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