Students are walking from class to class, filling up study rooms, chatting with their professors, some even eating their lunches – Kalmanovitz Hall is business as usual. Except for one thing: towards the eastern side of the atrium sits a quaint, oblong table. Made of wood and clay tile from Jerusalem, the table is handcrafted, surrounded on all sides by white poufs, and sits on an intricately woven Persian rug – a symbol of Arab culture. A sign standing on a wooden shelf behind the table reads: “Please sit at the table! Take a look through the Justice Library… Touch, read, write, relax in this space.” On top of the shelf and the table lay scattered various magazines, papers, graphics, images and news articles pertaining to social justice and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
The display is not simply a new decoration for the atrium – it is an interactive art exhibit, created by USF alumna Chelsea Mandell. Mandell is an artist and activist, and she brought the artwork as a platform “to re-envision how we gather together as people.” The Justice Library includes “texts, drawing, words and our voices,” according to Mandell. Although the piece is centered on the Israel-Palestine conflict, Mandell encourages students to leave any material relevant to social justice issues around the world.
Mandell also recognizes that complex issues can be conflicting for people, including herself. “I am Jewish and believe it is important to live out those Jewish values by wrestling to make sense of this conflict and where I stand in it,” Mandell said, “We are made in B’Tzelem Elohim [“The Image of God”], and if that is the case then I must work to understand the viewpoints of my Palestinian friends as they are made in the same image as I am. This work is all about my struggle with this conflict.”
The goal of the artwork is not to necessarily sway every student to one side of a conflict or another, but rather to engage the student in self-reflection towards a better understanding of the issue and the people involved.
Sophomore Kenya Miller visited the Justice Library on her own, leaving material about supporting the LGBTQ community there.
“It was super exciting to be able to go with my friends and be able to leave some stuff that helps generate more respect and activism for the LGBTQ community. It was relaxing but I still felt like I was doing something to make a change,” she said.
For sophomore Carlos Zapata, his roommate’s visit to the Justice Library prompted uncommon and meaningful conversation. “One of the things that I feel most strongly about are the rights of migrant workers, particularly in the Salinas Valley. My group of friends usually keeps conversation more fun and light, but the Justice Library kind of gave me an opportunity to talk about it with my friends. Even though I don’t talk about it much, it really is something that is important to me,” he said.
Mandell attended USF from 2009 to 2013 and said she first got involved in the Israel-Palestine conflict in her Urban Agriculture class, where they planted justice gardens during the Occupy Movement. Mandell said, “it connected [her] with ‘Beyond Bridges: Israel-Palestine,’ which took [her] to Israel and Palestine to do some hands-on learning.”
The Justice Library will be in the main atrium of Kalmanovitz Hall until May 1. Mandell hopes to bring more of her artwork to campus and to possibly teach at USF after she finishes her MFA program.
Featured Photo: The Justice Library was created by USF alumna Chelsea Mandell and centers around educating students about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, among other, student-provided social justice issues. Ali DeFazio/Foghorn