Juliette Wu protests vandalization of her artist statement

Juliette Wu posted a graphic on Instagram on November 1, 2021, accompanied with a caption about language diversity in China. via Juliette Wu
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Senior Juliette Wu posted flyers around campus to protest the vandalization of the artist statement accompanying her art piece, which depicted the issue of language assimilation in China. Wu opted to post these flyers instead of going to Tufts administration to launch an investigation into the incident.

Wu’s art piece, titled “Mandarin Only,is on display in Barnum Hall as a part of an art exhibition hosted by Tisch College. This illustration depicts a high school classroom with an official message written in red that roughly translates to “Please speak only Mandarin; please write in only Standard Chinese.”

Wu intended for her art to bring attention to the issue of language assimilation in China, where public school classrooms have been used frequently to enforce rules about only speaking in Mandarin as opposed to other Chinese languages.

“The background of this [art piece] is that in mainland China and as well in many different regions of the Sinosphere, we see a lot of language assimilation happening. Basically, what this means is that the state, both local and federal governments, will try to establish a single national language as prevalent and prioritized throughout the nation,” Wu said in an interview with the Daily. “My piece is a way to … challenge language assimilation and to promote language diversity.”

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In a piece titled “An Extended Overreaction to a Torn Edge” published in the Tufts Observer, Wu explained her personal experiences with language assimilation and why she is so passionate about this issue.

“Please understand the pain of language loss. Individual language loss is something I’ve experienced (the way English cannibalizes Cantonese and Mandarin in my head), but it doesn’t compare to collective language loss,” Wu wrote. “It’s something invisible and unnoticed; it’s when members of your own speech community say that language shifts are ‘organic’ and that speaking perfect, non-accented Mandarin without fangyan weighing it down is a marker of achievement.”

At the beginning of the semester, Wu noticed that her artist statement had been vandalized as her name, the title of her piece and one-third of her statement had been ripped off. The other art pieces and accompanying art statements in the exhibit were left untouched.

Alex Yang, a Tufts student who grew up in Beijing, shared his feelings upon hearing about the vandalization.

“I am still grateful and proud of the fact that I am Chinese,” Yang, a senior, wrote in an email to the Daily. “I feel comforted knowing that anywhere I go, I can find a community of people who share my common foods, upbringing, and hardships too. And that is exactly why it shocked me so much knowing that this vandal had so much hate in their system that they would overlook these experiences that bring us together.”

In her Observer article, Wu described how she took about a month to process the event before deciding to hang 50 flyers in prominent locations around campus in retaliation. These flyers used strong language to convey Wu’s feelings about the vandalization itself as well as the broader topic of language assimilation.

“The person who vandalized my art likely thinks china should be a monoethnic, monolinguistic state; that language diversity threatens this elusive image of ‘national unity;’ that being ‘chinese’ equates to speaking mandarin, and mandarin only,” Wu wrote on the flyer. “What a fucking joke.” 

Pictures of these flyers also began to circulate on social media, although Wu did not upload these pictures herself. Wu’s message has been met with mixed results, as she has received an outpouring of both support and backlash.

“It was a difficult week for me because a lot of people were speaking negatively about what I’ve done. I have had a lot of support as well, mostly people reaching out to me on my [social media platforms] but there has been backlash as well,” Wu said. “I would have preferred that people who disagreed with me engaged with me on equal terms in direct conversation.”

Wu described her decision to post flyers instead of going to Tufts administration to launch an investigation, highlighting the unresponsiveness of the Office of Equal Opportunity.

“I hear a lot about how OEO is unresponsive in terms of addressing these issues, and I hear a lot of friends also talking about how they’ve been ignored,” Wu said. “So I just thought that contacting Tufts administration would not have been productive in that sense.”

Wu added that OEO would likely have deployed the Tufts University Police Department, which she does not support, to conduct an investigation.

I think also, even if [the administration] did decide to take action, it would have been only through the deployment of TUPD,” Wu said. “What I don’t support about TUPD is the concept itself of campus police disrupting normal student life.”

Executive Director of Media Relations Patrick Collins emphasized that this vandalization is against the university’s policies, while mentioning that OEO has reached out to offer help to Wu.

“Acts of vandalism and destruction of property—especially if that damage is hate-driven—are against Tufts University’s values, which encourage respect for each other, differing views, and the principle of inclusion,” Collins wrote in an email to the Daily. “Personnel from the Office of Equal Opportunity have reached out to see if Juliette is interested in pursuing an investigation.”

Jaden Pena, Tufts Community Union diversity officer, emphasized his support for Wu during this difficult time.

“I think that speaks volume about how students feel the way Tufts admin deals with acts of vandalism,” Pena, a junior, wrote in an email to the Daily. “I completely support Juliette and her frustration and I want to apologize that we go to a school where stuff like this happens far too often.”

Pena directly condemned the acts of the vandal, adding that their actions were an unacceptable response to disagreement.

“I don’t care if you disagree with everything someone else believes in, you should never be disrespectful or inconsiderate of someone else’s feelings and beliefs,” Pena said. “That is the bottom line. Keep your negativity, hate, bias, and disrespectfulness to yourself.”

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