Students Welcome the World, Engage in G-20 Issues
By Abby Houck, The Piper, October 2009

Sarah Ceurvorst, Carolina Ramos, and Austin Redwood, Credit: Heidi OpdykeAs the G-20 descended upon Pittsburgh, news outlets around the world spread the message about Pittsburgh’s transformation. Carnegie Mellon students sent a clear message of their own: They are passionate about engaging the global community and contributing to thoughtful discussions about issues of international importance.

Many faculty members, including Candace Skibba of the Department of Modern Languages, noted a high level of engagement in classroom discussions. “I have been privy to many insightful, interested and opinionated conversations by my students regarding the purpose of the G-20 and the demonstrations in support of and against the delegation,” she said.

The following is a sample of the many efforts students led to raise awareness of international issues related to the G-20 and the ways they assisted community organizations in welcoming Pittsburgh’s visitors.

In August, students and others traveled to the West End Overlook and Washington’s Landing to tape welcome messages for international visitors in their native languages. The messages, created in partnership by the Allegheny Conference on Community and Economic Development and VisitPittsburgh, were played at kiosks in downtown hotels and businesses. They also are available at http://www.youtube.com/user/PghG20Partnership.

During the week prior to the G-20 Summit, students organized on-campus activities to increase awareness of the issues world leaders would be discussing at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. Students from Sustainable Earth planted a “G-20 tree” near Scaife Hall to send a symbolic message that the economy and ecology can and should grow stronger together. Student Government and the Activities Board Special
Events hosted a G-20 Awareness Fair at the Fence, which brought together student organizations such as Amnesty International, FORGE, Atheist Humanist Agnostics and the International Student Union.

Media visits on campus increased during G-20 week, beginning with Carnegie Mellon’s involvement in the Eds-Meds Partnership event with the
University of Pittsburgh and UPMC. Civil and environmental engineering Ph.D. student Eric (Zhiqiang) Li of Zhengzhou City, China, served as an
interpreter for visiting journalist Judith Chen of Radio France Internationale. Chen interviewed Christopher Weber, a research assistant professor in the Department of Civil Environmental Engineering, about his research on the environmental implications of globalization and international trade.

Student journalists from The Tartan worked alongside hundreds of professional journalists to cover events unfolding downtown. CmuTV provided television coverage of the Gates and Hillman centers dedication and Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s address.

Students from the Persian Students Association also got in the game. The group joined with the University of Pittsburgh’s Iranian Cultural Organization to host a co-ed soccer match at Gesling Stadium to show solidarity with the Iranian reform movement.

The arts played an important role in student activism. A group of 10-15 students led by Austin Redwood and Carolina Ramos, seniors in the Bachelor of Humanities and Arts program, created a shantytown surrounding the Fence. Small windmills jutted from the roof of one shanty, while “defend life, not profits” was written on the side of another structure.

After living at the Fence for more than a week, Redwood was pleased at the impact of the shantytown. “We wanted to deliver a message of
coherence while being as apolitical as possible,” he said. “This project united everyone to build something together while expressing many different viewpoints about issues related to the G-20.” These issues included global economic policy, financial revisions and climate change.

Nina Sarnelle, an MFA student, created an installation art project titled “We Are Watching You” to demand more transparency surrounding decisions made by financial ministers and heads of state engaged in the G-20. Four-foot cutouts of George Orwell’s “Big Brother” gazed from windows and buildings throughout campus for two weeks. Sarnelle encouraged fellow students to engage in “a method of counter-surveillance”
culminating in a silent protest on the Cut during the Thursday, Sept. 24 dinner for world leaders at Phipps Conservatory. Protesters received masks resembling the Orwellian Big Brother and faced the Phipps Conservatory.

“The G20 Summit can lock the doors, barricade the streets, flood the city with police, but it cannot escape the gaze of our discontent,” Sarnelle said.

First-year art majors Courtney Wittekind and Lauren Faigeles also brought a class project to life by utilizing humor to relieve some of the tension surrounding the G-20. They designed “Heads of State” — large, inflatable balls depicting the faces of leaders from the United States, United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, Mexico and China — and rolled them around the Cut on Thursday, Sept. 24.

On the other side of campus, first-year student Sarah Ceurvorst directed fellow students in creating a 60 by 100 yards “Help Wanted” sign on the
intramural sports field. “Heads of State” and “Help Wanted” originated from an assignment in Associate Professor of Art Andrew Johnson’s Concept Studio I course — propose a creative, whimsical response to the G-20.

Many challenges were involved in executing this project, from securing a space for the sign to dealing with occasional rain. However, the completed sign, made of white tarps and red paint, was completed in less than two days. Ceurvorst said classes and individuals assisted in creating the sign.

“We need to come together, find common ground and aid each other in our time of need,” Ceurvorst, a Bachelor of Humanities and Arts student, said about the concept for her project. “‘Help Wanted’ means that we do not need violent protests that will only cause chaos and fear. We need to remember that the G-20 is about coming together to try to find a solution to some of the world’s major problems.”