Over the course of the last year, we have created this Words That Activate Change series to uplift voices in our community that encourage dialogue, cultivate transformation, offer thought-provoking ideas, and challenge all of us to be better, be stronger, and, most importantly, be advocates for systemic change within both our community and our workforce.
The Lancaster Chamber strives to provide opportunities for local business and community leaders to share their insight and perspective on a variety of current topics. The connection between education and workforce is crucial, and we are grateful to uplift this new specific article featuring a variety of Pennsylvania College of Art & Design students.
Our seventeenth article is by Delaina Jolley, Kendall White, and CamRyn Mickens, members of BLAC at the Pennsylvania College of Art & Design. The BLAC student organization, founded June 2020 by a group of students who wanted to create a safe space and opportunities for students of color during the height of the Black Lives Matter. PCA&D is a community of makers and dreamers, designers, and entrepreneurs, where students of all ages discover how to make creativity a career. Located in the heart of Lancaster’s thriving arts community, a hallmark of this micro-college is the personal attention and guidance from the faculty of working artists, coupled with meaningful internships and hands-on experiences.
How Art Students Respond to the Unprecedented Events
by Delaina Jolley, Kendall White, and CamRyn Mickens
Being a college student during the pandemic was overwhelming, as we faced restrictions and constant uncertainty. Being a Black student during so much racial adversity added another layer of difficulty and challenge.
As artists, and as students, our sense of normal was uprooted. As creatives, we thrive on collaboration and critiques with our peers. As students, we missed so many aspects of being together in a community — living, studying, and creating together.
Personally, we found the best way to communicate our emotions of the past year’s events was through art.
So, we asked our classmates, How has the pandemic affected you as an artist, student, and person of color? We’ve collected their responses, and their artwork, to help illustrate what this past year felt like to us.
Alex Eggleston ’23, Photography and Video
Going home didn’t seem so bad at first. I was homesick and would go home every weekend anyways, so why not? However, in the coming days we would all realize the severity of the coronavirus, including me. Within the span of three weeks, I lost my aunt to Covid-19, I went through a messy breakup, and my mental health was overall suffering because I felt so alone. When I was at my lowest, Kayla came into my life and without knowingly doing anything, she saved me. During the beginning stages of our relationship, the murder of George Floyd happened. Seeing people of color, people that look like me, become victims of senseless acts of violence made me want to focus on the topics of identity, race, sexuality and other political topics that are important to me. I realized that this was the only way that I could communicate clearly what I was feeling and why.
Head to Head is conflict, it’s getting beaten to a pulp and having the guts to get back up, it’s going through a pandemic and losing things that meant a lot to you. As I enter my junior year I do so with the Mary Colleen Heill Presidential Scholarship given to me by my school, and happiness I never would have discovered without going through that conflict. I got back up. So, although the pandemic tried to pull me back, it also pushed me forward into becoming the artist I’ve always aspired to be.
Jasmyn Stokes ’23, Illustration
It’s been a hard year, and I would say that I cried more times about things that were in my control, and things that were completely out of my control. From 2020 to 2021, I had a lot of losses, and I had a few gains. I juggled being a full-time student and also working two jobs. Now, you could say that’s not very hard, but it is when you’re also trying to juggle your mental health. My mental health during this time was not the best. I struggled to make art, to find motivation and focus on the tasks right in front of me. I struggled to watch the news as more and more people of color were being killed. I struggled to find myself in a time of isolation. I still struggle, but not as much as I did before. Being a full-time art student in a pandemic is/was probably one of the hardest challenges I faced. I stayed home the entire year and had school virtually every day. I found myself at times up until 3 a.m. working on homework, trying to find the motivation I needed to complete assignments. I found myself even staying up until 6 a.m. and not even realizing the sun was coming up. It takes a lot of focus and hard work to do school virtually. I could not seem to throw myself into my work like I used to, and the result was that many of my pieces I did not like.
Within the entire year, I would say I was okay with two pieces I made. I felt no connection with my work. Even the work I made outside of school ended up in a trash bin. Everything I made I heavily disliked and threw away. Nothing, including the work I love to do, mattered to me anymore. After a while, I knew that my mental health played a big part in this. It was declining, and halfway through the year, I started full-time therapy which has been a big help. Being a Black artist during a time where all connections to family and friends were cut off, and a time where a lot of losses occurred, has been a hurdle that I could not jump. The biggest hurdle I faced was my own brain and my self-identity.
I have used this feeling for my work. I found that when multiple things are going on in my head at once, I take some of them and turn them into pieces of work that speak louder than my words can. Art during this time you could say has been my therapy in taking care of my mental health.
Dzifa Charity Lassey’ 24, Graphic Design
Locked down, locked in! I had a greater sense of focus on my artwork and my health. No more outings and no more shopping at the mall! Stuck inside most of the time changed my outlook on socializing, daily routines, art making, and self-care. Being inside all the time caused me to travel to floating islands or to undiscovered planets where people walk upside down in my imagination. Online art school was fantastic! I found online school to be convenient and beneficial. I enjoyed going to school from any location. Sometimes I went to school at a local coffee shop or at a park. Online school taught me how to form long-distance relationships and how to network. My old computer that frustrated me became my source of confidence. I felt free to talk about my pet cactus and my abstract artwork behind a computer screen. The best part of the online school situation was exploring an empty campus. My art making during the pandemic looked like using my mask as chamois for my charcoal portrait, gluing wood blocks together, creating illustrations about the Black Lives Matter movement, and creating a gigantic self-portrait out of paper plates.
During the pandemic I used new mediums that were both resourceful and unconventional. Working on art projects for school made me realize the importance of having an organized workspace. This became apparent to me when my bedroom turned into a danger zone, where I could step on a tube of paint at any given moment and create a footprint masterpiece. There were times during the pandemic that I had no idea what to draw. During those times when I didn’t know what to draw, I learned how to not be hard on myself and how to scribble on a piece of paper. I am looking forward to a post-pandemic world that isn’t just in my imagination. This pandemic is not the end of everything, and it’ll make a way for new beginnings. Now that vaccines are here, we can start getting back to what we love. After the pandemic I will appreciate seeing the face of a complete stranger.
Dominique Bryson ‘24, Illustration
Being an art student while a global pandemic is affecting your schoolwork and how you learn is extremely hard. It is mentally, physically, and emotionally draining when you cannot go up to your fellow classmates or professors in person and ask them a question or for help. It is the same for when you are struggling in a class. Personally, starting college through the laptop was a huge downside. I wanted to be in the classes, yet I was scared of the pandemic. With most classes being online, I went back home. Through time, I would doubt myself as a person and an artist. It would take a lot of time to even try to recover from how I felt.
During this time, the facts that were hitting me hardest were how the pandemic and being a black woman impacted me. From my time off and away from school, I would discuss the disadvantages black women have. It became a part of me that I wanted to express through drawing. Being able to reach out to people and their views growing up and scribbling on a paper helped me cope. It taught me how to love myself, for who I am, and what color I am. I have always wanted to show what I personally went through. Thankfully, being an art student makes the message come across through these pieces.
We hope it is helpful for Chamber members to see the struggles we and our generation of students went through during the past year. We hope that by sharing our stories and our artwork, others can feel compassion for the struggles and celebrate the triumphs of college students during the time of both a pandemic and of increased racial adversity. We hope that by illustrating our complicated feelings, readers will have deeper empathy and be moved to advocate for our generation as we enter the workforce as interns and graduates.
Learn more about PCA&D at pcad.edu and explore all other Words That Activate Change articles here.