“Imagining the World highlights our college's participation in the global community. Through this contest, students, faculty, and staff capture more than a moment in their experience – they share a very personal window into the world they explore.” – 2020 Virtual Gallery
When Kathleen La Voy, Associate Provost for Faculty Affairs, started the annual Imagining the World photo exhibit, it was with the desire to show Seattle University as an international college. Held in October of 2008, students who were enrolled in the University’s Study Abroad program submitted photos of moments that told a story about their overseas experience.
“I love students,” said La Voy, who was, at the time, Associate Dean in the College of Arts and Sciences, “What a way to get to know who they are! In the case of photos, you’re actually looking through someone else’s eyes. We talk about walking in their shoes but looking through their eyes is really something.”
Taking over the quad, the winning photo, along with “honorable mentions” were projected on large screens. October in Seattle tends to bring damp, cold weather, which would have halted the whole experience. But, for this first year, the weather was perfect. Several ethnic restaurants provided food and tables were set up with various items to really bring an international festivity to it.
“We had all these people, “ La Voy remembers, “you don’t realize how much the campus is utilized by the neighbors. It was so much fun to open up and bring the community in.”
The following year, the event was moved indoors, in consideration for our wet, Seattle Octobers, and the decision was made to include an additional contest to feature local photos taken by Seattle University international students: “We are abroad to them”, according to La Voy.
Sonora Jha, current Associate Dean for Academic Community, College of Arts and Sciences, feels the same way: “It’s not just about looking outward at the ‘exotic other’ but that (to international students) we are also the ‘exotic other’, if there even is such a thing.”
Later a Faculty category was added to increase perspectives to be displayed.
Many photographers, through this annual contest and exhibition, ended up finding permanence on campus. As La Voy says, “the photographs weren’t just beautiful, they were also a great reminder that, at Seattle U, student stories are what matter.” Visitors to campus can see work all over buildings like Vi Hilbert Hall, among others.
“The photos are about connection, rather than ‘othering’”, explains Jha, “I think that it was wonderful students could go into different parts of the world and you can almost see that they recognize their place in it.”
Indeed, when looking through the retrospective, we can see the incredibly rich diversity in architecture, landscape, and even clothing among the photos. Yet, looking at the faces, expressions, and actions of the subjects, we can also see that we have much more in common.
Sadly, due to the pandemic, travel is halted and the in-person experience will not take place at this time. Yet, as things continue to open and revive, there is hope. When asked about her thoughts on our virtual retrospective, Jha said, “I think it’s important (that this virtual exhibit takes place) as a way to acknowledge the sadness of our imposed distance and yet serve up good memories, like a window to look out of as we dream of once again roaming all over the world.”