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Traditions and Tolerance: Reflecting on the Visit of Charlene Teters
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Traditions and Tolerance: Reflecting on the Visit of Charlene Teters

Among the events sponsored by the Tolerance Resource Center over the past 10 years, few generated a response quite like the visit of Charlene Teters in March 2003. Notre Dame College invited the internationally recognized artist and Native American activist for an art installation and multimedia presentation titled “Home of the Brave.”

Charlene TetersRachel Morris, chair of the art department, recalls that Teters’ visit was aimed to educate, raise awareness, and express some of the outrage resulting from the stereotypes presented of Native Americans. “The mission of the Center is to teach tolerance,” said Morris. “This seemed like an issue that needed to be addressed.”

Morris was aware that Teters’ art might be perceived negatively. “In Cleveland, people have great childhood memories of (Chief) Wahoo and all of the good things like going to baseball games with family. But as a Native American, this wasn’t her experience.”

“Several months before her exhibit, she came to campus and had a very positive meeting with our former president, Dr. Anne Deming,” said Morris. The decision was made to go forward with the event which was certain to provoke discussion.

Teters’ exhibit opened with a gallery talk and a powerful message about stereotypes. “Racial stereotypes dehumanize and if we dehumanize a people, we are vulnerable to acts of racism,” she said.

A few days later, the College hosted a panel discussion with local Native Americans. “It was a broad discussion about some of the social issues important in their community,” said Morris. As anticipated, the response to Teters’ message was quite strong. “There were some students who were outraged that this artist was here. We expected that,” said Morris.

“But there were a lot of good discussions and a number of people who changed their minds once they saw the exhibit, and that was the point—for them to see another perspective.”

Steve Ruic is the writer and editor at Notre Dame College.

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