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February 8, 2022

Students Co-Create Mural for Diversity & Inclusion Gathering Space

Entrepreneur, Alum Help Strengthen College Community
Students Co-Create Mural for Diversity & Inclusion Gathering Space
Students Erika Casarin (right) and Meena Pannirselvam, ’19, led the collaborative creation of “Unity in Diversity,” a mural that now hangs inside the Diversity & Inclusion Gathering Space in Howard L. Hawks Hall.

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More than 100 students took part in a collaborative process to ideate, design and create a large mural now on display in the College of Business Diversity & Inclusion Gathering Space, called DIGS for short. The project aimed to reflect the college’s vibrant community and help build the atmosphere students want to create in the space in Howard L. Hawks Hall, Room 102.  

DIGS mural artwork of all different types of people.
In designing the mural, Meena Pannirselvam was inspired by feedback from the College of Business about how they wanted people to feel when they spent time in DIGS. The artist filled the design with symbolism to represent the multiple layers of diversity present in the college’s community.

After the DIGS’ grand opening in October 2021, the college asked The PALLETTE Project, a startup led by founder, CEO and senior management major Erika Casarin from Lincoln, Nebraska, to help facilitate the community-building mural project. Students, faculty and staff got the opportunity to share how they wanted to feel in the space.

“We went out into the College of Business community to find out what the DIGS meant to them. We took those insights and inspiration from the creation and opening of DIGS. This mural is special to me because it belongs to our community and represents the beauty of it,” said Casarin.

The mural, titled “Unity in Diversity,” was conceptualized by Meena Pannirselvam, ’19, finance alum and current graduate student in educational administration. The design prominently features the portraits representing the diverse members of the college’s community who are surrounded by vibrant flowers. The symbolism represents multiple layers of diversity and how they come together to create something beautiful.

“People wanted a space where they felt safe, brave and felt a sense of belonging. One of the ways to reinforce those feelings is to see representation. This art symbolizes physical attributes of diversity, but we also recognize and acknowledge there are other forms of diversity and identities that are invisible,” said Pannirselvam. “My favorite part about this piece is the national flowers from different countries. They bring in the global aspect, which is important to me as an international student from Malaysia.”

Many students painting on the mural canvas
Luis De La Torre (far right) joined other business students in painting the DIGS mural. He saw the painting event as a way to meet new people.

Pannirselvam and Casarin outlined the design on canvas for students to paint at an event held in November. Much like a paint-by-number activity, people of all skill levels could help create the art. While taking turns for their time to paint the mural, students created portraits of people who inspired them or self-portraits on smaller “make and take” canvases. The finished mural took its place on the wall near the DIGS’ entrance in early December.  

“This mural created an experience in which people could connect and collaborate while painting. Now, when students, faculty, and staff walk by or visit DIGS, they’ll remember what they contributed and the memories they made together. A lot of things are important to make a space feel more inclusive, one of them is art,” said Pannirselvam, who as part of her graduate program serves as the graduate assistant for the Office of Academic Success and Intercultural Services (OASIS).

Luis De La Torre, a junior actuarial science and finance major from Lexington, Nebraska, saw the opportunity to help paint the mural as a way to build connections while making the college a better place.

"I saw it as an opportunity to create new relationships while participating in something that would be part of the College of Business. The painting, to me, is a perfect representation of what DIGS is – a conglomerate of diverse individuals coming together to create a community that respects and appreciates each other. It adds personality and life to the space," he said.

A student painting a self-portrait as they wait for their turn at painting the mural.
While students waited for their turn at painting the mural, they created self-portraits or portraits of someone they found inspiring on “make and take” canvases.

Students will continue to take ownership in co-creating the DIGS. Programming is currently led by four DIGS student ambassadors. They recently launched a new Instagram account, @Nebraska_DIGS, to share events and start conversations. From its name to programming, the student-led nature of the space gives it authenticity.

“This dedicated physical space serves as a hub for conversation, inclusive programs and gatherings to help all students feel they belong in the Nebraska Business community. You can think of it like our own multicultural center – a space that makes it where students would want to come and stay in the entire day in Hawks Hall,” said Kathy Farrell, James Jr. and Susan Stuart Endowed Dean and professor of finance. “We are excited students are making it a vibrant, active space. Between our initiatives like DIGS and the university’s broader diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, we are building momentum that is truly transforming our university into a place where every person and every interaction matters.”

To learn more about the inclusion efforts at the College of Business, visit: https://business.unl.edu/inclusion.