Cheyney University Unveils Winning Artwork Promoting Smoke Free Campus

May 6, 2017

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Cheyney students Fred Goode, Veronica Becerra, and Meredith Morrison pose with the bench that they constructed after their winning design beat out more than 35 others from across the nation. The bench, which highlights the university's plan to be smoke-free by December 2018, was unveiled on campus May 5.

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Cheyney University of Pennsylvania art students, alongside faculty and staff, celebrated the unveiling of a new campus monument Friday, May 5, that will not only beautify the campus, but commemorate Cheyney’s “Be Free 2018” initiative. That effort is intended for the campus to adopt a smoke and tobacco free policy by December 2018.

“Cheyney first partnered with The Truth Initiative in 2015, and was among the 1st group of HBCU’s (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) to be awarded a $5,000 grant to assist with Truth’s initiative,” says Cheyney’s Director of Judicial Affairs, Thom Nixon.

“We started this initiative in 2015, and have worked and partnered with 135 colleges across the country,” explains Director of Community and Youth Engagement with Truth Initiative, Alexandra Parks. “Last year, we wanted to showcase the work that these colleges are doing on campus, and came up with the idea of having an art mural as sort of a lasting impression on going smoke or tobacco free on campus.”

Cheyney students Veronica Becerra, Fred Goode, and Meredith Morrison volunteered to diligently produce the creative design concept so that Cheyney could enter the contest. More than 40 HBCU’s from across the nation entered as well, and out of the top 5 winners, Cheyney’s submission was the only 3-dimensional piece, a bench, as opposed to a flat design, such as a mural or poster. The Truth Initiative gave the Cheyney students $1000 to make their design a tangible reality.

“When we heard that we won, I think it was a collective bit of shock, followed by a lot of excitement and, then, the realization that we had to build this bench and I've never done construction work before so this was a real learning experience for me," admits Morrison, an English major who will graduate on May 13.

The trio’s unique design was a collaborative effort, painstakingly executed over four weeks, under the direction of Marietta Dantonio Madsen, Fine Arts professor and Chair of the Fine Arts, Design, and Liberal Studies Department, whose husband, Steve, taught the students how to do the cement work, and Joel Keener, a Graphic Design professor, who helped cut out the two wolf silhouettes. Cheyney’s mascot is a wolf.

"I'm thrilled," smiled Professor Madsen. "They did such a beautiful job and they worked some really long hours.”

“This project came with many challenges and struggles that my teammates, professors, and I had to face, in order to make this bench possible. Learning how to build cement structures, cutting rebar, pouring cement, and combatting poor weather conditions were only a few of the challenges that we faced,” shares Becerra, a sophomore and Graphic Design and Fine Arts double major from Kennett Square, PA.

Their efforts were well worth it. That was clearly evident by the oooh’s and ahhh’s from the crowd which withstood rain to get a glimpse of the colorful and symbolic bench that is now prominently situated in front of the campus’ Marcus Foster Student Alumni Center, the hub of university activity. As the tarp was lifted, all eyes were on the bench. The structure, simplistic and beautiful in front, depicts two wolves whose heads are raised in a howl with Cheyney's logo painted in the middle. Smoke, which is usually represented as dark and ominous in art, is depicted in brilliant pigments dancing and meshing together in radiant harmony. On the back, majestic mountains loom in the distance against a pastel blue and pink sunrise. A grassy field, trees, a winding river, flowers and plants also adorn the bench.

“Those pink, yellow, and white honeysuckle-looking flowers in full bloom are actually tobacco flowers,” reveals Goode, a senior Fine Arts major. “It’s the world you could see without cigarettes, without clearing the fields and mountains of natural life to make way for tobacco farms. This beauty, grace and natural state of the world is the freedom the wolves have.”

The bench carries a message on the front and back: Be Free—Smoke Free--Like the Wolves.

"We hope it will be used as a monument for Cheyney's campus to be a smoke-free environment and motivate students and be a symbol to the university for years to come. We also hope that graduating seniors can use the bench for their photos,” Becerra adds.

Truth initiative is a national non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C. that has partnered with CVS Healthcare to advocate for smoke and tobacco free campus policies on HBCU’s and community college campuses.

"Our partnership with Truth Initiatives is extremely important because they want to create the first tobacco free generation," reveals Nixon. "The university's bench will remind the community that you can live a tobacco free life by taking time to relax, breathe fresh air and be free from tobacco addiction."

After the unveiling, the Truth Initiative team hosted an event featuring interactive games, food, giveaways, and a live DJ who kept the student union rocking. The campus community learned many facts about smoking and tobacco use, as statistics and signs were posted in the union. For example, in 2003, the U.S. had only one smoke free college campus. Today, there are 1,757 smoke free college campuses. Cheyney hopes to be included in that number before the start of 2019.