Professor stitches together activism, empowerment

By Olivia Deloian, Campus Reporter

An embroidered cloth stitched by a Columbia adjunct has gone viral in response to the accelerating allegations of sexual harassment and assault against film producer Harvey Weinstein.

The embroidery, shared by celebrities over social media as a way to stand up for victimized women, reads “Boys will be Boys” with the second “Boys” crossed out and replaced with “held accountable for their f–king actions.” Some celebrities who shared the work include Rose McGowan, Emily Ratajkowski and Tracee Ellis Ross.

Shannon Downey, adjunct professor in the Design and Business and Entrepreneurship departments, said she initially made the cross-stitching in October 2016 as a statement against then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, who had stated in a 2005 video he could grab women inappropriately and get away with it because he was a celebrity.

Downey said she is surprised to see her work get so much exposure now, as opposed to when she created the stitching.

“I’ve been really humbled and honored by the fact that so many women are using that piece as the illustration to go along with their stories,” Downey said. “People using my image in that way is the most magical use of my work that I could ever think of.”

Downey’s inspiration for the stitching came from a childhood memory of her mother’s reaction to the statement “boys will be boys.”

“I remember my mom coming home one day and being like, ‘I hate that expression; what is this boys will be boys? This is ridiculous. No, they will be held accountable for whatever they do,’” Downey said.

Richard Zeid, associate professor in the Design Department, said Downey’s dedication to advocacy for human rights is characteristic of both her artistic work and teaching methods.

“The work she’s done and the notice she’s gotten for it [are] a testament to her commitment to her beliefs,” Zeid said.

Downey said she works activism into the classroom by encouraging her students to create meaningful, world-changing work.

Gretta Goldstein, 2017 graphic design alumna, had Downey for her “Management for Designers” class and said Downey’s optimism made the class exciting to attend.

“Every aspect of who she was seemed to be trying to bring activism and being a better person into it,” Goldsetin said. “That was the first time I saw someone who was doing it all the time.”

Goldstein now works as a graphic designer at Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, a Native American sovereign nation near Minneapolis, and said Downey’s influence has aided her in working with and honoring a culturally sensitive area.

“If there’s one word to embody [Downey], to me it’s ‘empowerment,’” Goldstein said.

Downey said she feels spreading activism is a necessity in America because of the current political climate.

“I’m sort of a perpetual activist; I don’t know how not to be,” Downey said. “It’s my medium in order to spread a message and ask people to consider things, think about things differently, stand up, say something and [then] do something.”