By Leah Jones, Features Editor

Sammi Risius and Jessie Kehle take down the wall of intolerance – Courtesy of Leah Jones/The Current

For the last 6,000 years, humans have been making bricks for their architectural endeavors. The ancient Egyptians built the Great Pyramid of Kheops using 2.5 million blocks, weighing about two tons each. The Incans built Machu Picchu from bricks of granite stone, cut so precisely that they did not need to use mortar. The ancient Chinese used more than 3 billion bricks, about 3,873,000,000, to build the 5,500-mile-long Great Wall of China. While the Great Wall was built as a defense system to keep invaders out of the country, we also build metaphorical walls from bricks to separate us from other people.

PRIZM, the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and straight alliance at the University of Missouri-St. Louis demonstrated these metaphorical bricks and walls on the Millennium Student Center Bridge this past week, with their Walls of Intolerance program. Students wrote instances of discrimination on red blocks of construction paper, which were meant to simulate bricks. PRIZM members then taped these bricks onto the windows of the bridge, effectively building a wall built of discrimination and intolerance.

Jessie Kehle, graduate, English, and president of PRIZM described the annual project.  “This is a program where students are supposed to write instances of discrimination, bias, or judgement that either they have witnessed, experienced, or seen someone else experience,” Kehle said. “The idea is we cover the whole bridge with them so that people know that this kind of stuff does not go away. It’s not going to go away in my lifetime, or your lifetime, or probably anybody’s lifetime […] and you have to pay attention to it.”

Sammie Risius, sophomore, media studies with a minor in psychology, previously served as the vice-president of PRIZM, but now serves as just a general member. Risius said that the Walls of Intolerance project is one of her favorite PRIZM events. “I don’t like people making fun of other people. I don’t like people bringing others down, so this is something that we do to make people aware. People can read these statements and think ‘Oh, I didn’t know that was such a big deal.’ Or [people] writing down [instances of discrimination] lets them to vent it out,” she said.

“I hope it is going to be successful. I hope we are going to fill every single window,” Kehle said.

After a week of building the Walls of Intolerance with bricks of discrimination on the MSC bridge all week, on Thursday from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., PRIZM held their Day of Silence, followed by the Breaking the Silence event, which featured a band and open-mic for those who wished to speak. “We are going to take down the wall silently as a community […] on the Day of Silence,” Kehle said.  “Then we [will] walk over to the Fireside Lounge and that is where we [will] do an open mic night to break the silence of the day for those who are participating.”

“We [will] tear it down; like tearing down discrimination,” Risius said. On their TritonSync page, PRIZM’s stated goal is “to create and maintain an inclusive, safe, and accepting environment on our campus for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities,” as well as to undermine negative stereotypes and educate students on these issues. While this event aimed to fulfill these goals, Kehle and Risius hoped that students would take away more than just the knowledge that discrimination exists.

Kehle said that she hoped that students would take up a call to action from the event. “These kinds of hurtful things happen, and we need to do something. So, the first step, of course, is to notice it. The second step is to actually take action. Join the fight against these kinds of things. It’s very important that we do that,” Kehle said. “I mean, I have a lot of marginalized identities, so I get it a lot.  People will make fun of me because I am gay. They will make fun of me because my wife is [transsexual]. People make fun of me because I am on the autism spectrum. It gets to you. It really does.”

“[Students should} watch what they say and don’t talk about others. They might not know that they are being rude…Be mindful of others,” Risius added. While humans have used historically bricks to build walls to separate and isolate themselves, they have also used bricks to build bridges to connect them to other people. People may build walls of intolerance with bricks of discrimination, but they can also take action to build bridges and try to understand each other with bricks of understanding.

To learn more about PRIZM at UMSL, and their upcoming events, visit their page on TritonSync or on Facebook.