SOCIAL JUSTICE: A REFLECTION GARDEN, SOUTHERN CONNECTICUT STATE UNIVERSITY

May 24, 2018

SOCIAL JUSTICE: A REFLECTION GARDEN, SOUTHERN CONNECTICUT STATE UNIVERSITY 

 

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It is with both a heavy and a hopeful heart that I air this week's episode in honor of the upcoming Memorial Day Holiday. The recently dedicated Reflection Garden on the campus of Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven, CT was conceived, designed and manifested in honor of the lives of four alumnae of SCSU, all educators, whose lives were taken by gun violence in the elementary school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT in 2012. In the process of implementing this garden, the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida took place on February 14, 2018.

 

With the news of the tragedy at Parkland, the designers and shepherd's of the SCSU Reflection Garden knew that their garden-in-process needed to hold space not just for their alumnae lost, but for the pillars of a wider, broader, farther reaching sense of the ideals social justice in this world and all lives and hopes lost in violence and despair in our world. Ideals held in active "pillar" concepts of Civility, Respect, Dignity, Compassion and Kindness.

 

As I put the final touches on this week's episode, while celebrating the graduation of my eldest niece from college, we heard news of the most recent in a list of far too damn many school shootings (acts of violence and despair), this one at Santa Fe High School outside of Houston, TX.

 

In grieving this newest act of violence, of lives and civility and safety lost, I knew this episode - my very work itself - must continue to show up to a broader, deeper - more embracing and expansive vision of the work of gardens and gardeners than even ever before.

 

Gardens and gardeners at their best are wonderful vessels of connection and solace, beauty and healing - for our selves, our environments and our communities large and small. But to be honest - even in the richness and value of these benefits - our gardens and we as gardeners must be more.

 

We must be catalysts for inspired, faith action in this world. We must - and can be - not just vessels but agents of change and the open hearted, determined hard work needed to continue to face and transform the most challenging aspect of our world.

 

The Reflection Garden on the campus of SCSU in New Haven, CT and the "gardeners" of the concept - the visioning, the design, the installation and the active participatory living and learning going forward in this one profound garden is just one beautiful model of what a garden as agent can be

 

Thank you for listening.

 

Wishing you beauty, solace, healing and pathways of kindness in the gardens of your life this Memorial Day weekend.

 

love,

 

Jennifer

In mid-December of 2012, 20 elementary children and 7 elementary staff members and educators were killed in a mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut – a tragedy that rocked our country as a horrific act of senseless gun violence and despair. Of the adults lost in this event, 4 of them were alumnae of Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU) in New Haven, CT.

 

In 2013, SCSU conducted a juried competition seeking submissions for a conceptual way to honor and remember their lost SCSU “family” members. The winning design was by art student at the time Carlene (Carly) Barnes. Combining art, physical spaces and the idea of bringing people together, Barnes' original concept featured a central, large circular O shaped sculpture set into a space planted with restful lavender and memorial red poppies. 

 

"It’s not just the way it looks, it’s the way it feels when you’re in the garden and

looking out over the pond and then towards the town of New Haven again...

When you’re standing in front of the sculpture, you’re standing in a circle

and so you’re sort of embraced or encompassed by the garden."

Kari Swanson, SCSU Librarian 

 

In an effort to bring this vision into being, in 2016, SCSU faculty and staff reached out to the Julie Moir Messervy Design Studio (JMMDS), based in Saxtons River, Vermont to help complete the design as it would fit into the campus as a whole and to install the garden on the campus.

 

On May 4th of this year, the Southern Connecticut State University Family – students, staff, faculty and neighboring New Haven community members, dedicated this implemented design in a new Reflection Garden on the campus. The garden honors and remembers the alumnae lost in the Sandy Hook shooting in a Remembrance Area of Compassion and goes even further to pay tribute and to embody in a living garden the ideals of social justice that are a key area of focus for the University. These core values of social justice are: Dignity, Respect, Civility, Kindness, and Compassion.

 

The main wooden sculpture in the SCSU Remembrance Garden honors four educators and graduates of Southern.

Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, M.S. ’97, 6th Yr. ’98,

Anne Marie Murphy, M.S. ’08,

Mary J. Sherlach, M.S. ’90, 6th Yr. ’92,

Victoria Leigh Soto, ’13,

 

In honor of the upcoming Memorial Day Holiday, today we’re joined by members of the SCSU staff and faculty, and by Jana Bryan, Senior Landscape Architect of the Julie Moir Messervy Design team in charge of this project, to hear more about this garden and the expansive, collaborative process that helped bring it to life.

 

In the first part of the program we speak with Kari Swanson, an SCSU librarian and recording secretary for the SCSU Reflection Garden Council, as well as with "President Joe" - Joe Bertolino, President of SCSU.

 

In the second half of the program we hear from Jana Bryan, Senior Landscape Architect and Professor William Faraclas – one of the several faculty and staff, which also included Vice President of Institutional AdvancementDan Carmenga, who shepherded the garden into being over the last few years.

 

To see a wonderful video documenting the actual building of the garden - check this out! 

Link to the SCSU journalist video of Building the Remembrance Garden

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ABruu5ySqNw&feature=youtu.be

 

All of our guests join us today via Skype. 

 

 

 "[The Reflection Garden]is a living entity. It is something that continues to grow, to evolve and it's also a participatory entity - it requires someone to pay attention to it in order for it to thrive, just like our community. Individual members of our community and our community as a whole - in order to grow and to thrive and to develop, they need to be cared for."

Joe Bertolino, President SCSU 

 

 

While the SCSU Reflection garden began as a memorial, over the course of the years and months conceiving and constructing the garden dedicated on May 4th, the vision was expanded to be a campus-wide garden which was a living expression of the core ideals of social justice as embraced by this urban state university: Civility, Respect, Dignity, Compassion and Kindness. The sculptural O aspect of Carly Barnes' original concept was ultimately crafted of a warm glossy wood by sculptor Richard Duca and fabricated at 10 feet tall, built to endure weather and the elements for up to 100 years by Brooklin Boatyard of Brooklin, Maine. The sculpture, the center of which is embedded with four fiber optics lights that glow at night, is now the central compelling feature of the Remembrance Garden within the Reflection Garden.

 

 

"Respect being radial in form became the areas for outdoor classrooms. They provide an atmosphere for mutual understanding for listening and learning and acknowledging values and accomplishments. These were responses from students and staff: Respect is a horizontal peer to peer gesture."

Jana Bryan, Senior Landscape Architect, JMMDS

 

 

William Faraclas is a professor of Public Health celebrating his 43 years at Southern CT State University, he worked closely with Dan Carmenga and other faculty and staff of the university and the Julie Moir Messervy Landscape Design Studio to shepherd the new Reflection Garden on the SCSU campus to life. Jana Bryan is the senior Landscape Architect for the SCSU Reflection Garden. President Joe Bertolino is the President of SCSU and Kari Swanson is a University Librarian who served as the secretary for the Reflection Garden Council over the course of the 18th month visioning, design and installation process.

 

With the entire team – staff and faculty included - having worked till the wee hours of the morning to complete the vision together, the Southern Connecticut State University Reflection Garden was opened and dedicated on May 4th of this year. 

 

"We wanted [the garden] stand for hope, we wanted it stand for the hope that we could solve this problem of violence that is our plaguing our nation.....and [when] the idea of reflection was introduced - we thought ‘we need a reflection garden’ we need to have people think more about the problems in our nations and to go beyond that to think about their solutions. And that was the connection to social justice." 

William Faraclas, Professor of Public Health

&Co-Chair of the Reflection Garden Council 

 

I’d like to end today’s episode by revisiting something that Bill Faraclas ended with as I think it bears repeating – in this world, to us as gardeners each of us in our very own ways as we enter into the Memorial Day weekend.

 

“We need to go into the garden and think about who we are and what we stand for and how we would like to be remembered sometime in the future. And leave those impressions in the gravel and in the world and make sure that our light also will remain glowing in the world after we are gone.”

 

May your Memorial Day weekend be one of power and purpose and intentional impressions left in the earth beneath your feet.

 

* * * * * * * *

 

This garden journey story has gotten to me in a way that’s new even for me, I have to tell you. Gardens have – since antiquity perhaps? – been meaningful places of memorial and honor. Of remembrance. But this SCSU Reflection garden – on the campus of this state university in the heart of an industrial urban community – has very consciously taken the concept of memorial and amplified and deepened it.

 

In this garden story, the concept of memorial was placed in a chalice of community - of communal sadness, anger frustration and confusion, it was combined caringly together with broader ideals of respect and civility – of listening carefully and speaking thoughtfully. Then, additional elements of hard working, living loving people came together with the tenderness of hope in the midst of loss and with the transformational intentions and faith action that is required for communities to come together at all – and which are also required to plan and plant a garden.

 

It is far too easy, I know, for the lessons of the garden to be reduced to cliché. For age-old statements like "to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow" to be reduced to bumper stickers and cheap plastic signs…..

 

But - but – in the embrace of this Reflection and Remembrance Garden – where raw human emotion and need, human nature (both violent and sad, artistic and generative), mother nature and faith are held together within encompassing , overlapping, intertwining circles both tangible and reflected – this is the embodiment of believing in tomorrow and believing in the importance of taking care of tomorrow today.

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about how gardens and gardeners change the world around them.

 

And when in the course of this conversation, Jana Bryan, the senior Landscape Architect from the Julie Moir Messervy discusses the way in which she translated the concepts of Civility and Respect and Dignity into physical spaces – I was as moved as perhaps I’ve ever been when hearing the story of a garden. And you people know, gardens move me.  

 

I can only imagine how long Jana turned the collection of thoughts and impressions from the visioning sessions before she came to her ideas of how embody and manifest civility – respect - dignity - compassion – kindness – into physical form.

 

It’s seminal work in my mind - born of community input and collaboration: entryways and thresholds as the physical form of civility, the radial nature of respect, the pathways of kindness.

 

As part of the process of this garden vision and making on their campus, the Reflection Garden council identified areas which embodied these ideals across their campus – and this in turn made me consider my own garden – and yours – and public and private and gardens I hold dear.

 

When I walk my garden, are my entryways introducing themselves to people entering with civility – are there areas of compassion, of respect and dignity? Are the pathways those of kindness? Beauty, embrace, soothing fragrance, food and shelter and medicine and refuge – all of these I hope for in a garden. But this garden and the community that came together to conceive and birth it have expanded me and my garden understandings once again.

 

Like a caterpillar who has sloughed one skin for the next size up - I will never look at a garden the same again. The next instar up.

 

I’d love to hear back from you all on this. If you have thoughts or stories to share please send them by email through the contact page at Cultivatingplace.com (scroll to bottom of page) or write them in the comments of this episode’s post on Instagram and Facebook.

 

And if you liked this episode – and feel moved – SHARE IT WITH FRIENDS. - with every single plant loving person you can think of on this planet. Because together we as gardeners make a difference in this world – in what we value and how we too embody and model these values forward.

 

The value we find in conversations like these is powerful action for positive shifts in this world. Thank you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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