During the month of November, Fairfield University hosted an art symposium and competition in the Barone Campus Center focused on student expressions of social justice. The event, which was guided by this year’s Fairfield Art Museum exhibition on Arthur Szyk’s role in advocating for human rights, featured over 130 visitors and served as a gathering opportunity to reflect on the values of social justice in the arts.

The competition, organized by Karen Langton, Ph.D., a visiting assistant professor in the Department of Religious Studies, featured seven student submissions with topics ranging from race, gender, drug addiction, autism and social concerns. Blessed Stephen, a sophomore student from Chicago, Ill., was awarded first place with her piece “Broken Promises.”

In an interview with The Mirror, Stephen indicated that her piece was inspired by her family’s experiences with the Department of Veterans Affairs and the passing of her brother during her first semester at Fairfield University. 

“Mine was titled ‘Broken Promises’ and focuses on veteran’s rights. My brother passed away last year, in 2022; it was the second week of freshman year, so it was hard,” said Stephen. “I did it to dedicate it to him.”

Stephen, who is a student with a major in Art History with a concentration in Visual Administration, explained that the title comes from the idea that people join the armed forces for the benefits they provide to members and their families, but “they really don’t keep those benefits or promises.”

“It’s a way to engage people, but in reality, people don’t actually end up seeing those benefits,” Stephen argues. 

She highlights the necessity of events like the symposium, which “brings awareness to a lot of issues happening in the world that are not very well known.” The sophomore, who participated in the “Chicago Made” campaign before moving to Fairfield University, added that “having events like this allows students to express themselves and the interests they have.”

“Broken Promises”, which is now featured in the Fairfield University Art Museum Walsh Gallery, represents a big accomplishment for Stephen as it represents part of her work and advocacy on social justice while combining her passion for the arts. 

She concluded that the piece of art was another way of honoring her brother and a way to bring awareness to the struggles of military personnel.

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