Notre Dame Design Students Bring South Africa together+ to Fight Xenophobia

May 17, 2012 • Notre Dame News

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reports that as of December 2011, almost 500,000 people had claimed asylum or refugee status in South Africa. In Johannesburg, the resulting xenophobia-fueled riots have led to distrust, destruction, and even death. The violence continues today.

In the spirit of ubuntu, or “togetherness,” University of Notre Dame faculty, students, and alumni, Kgosi Neighbourhood Foundation, and Pellegrino Collaborative have joined forces to develop together+, a multifaceted campaign designed to unite a South African community divided by xenophobia, and to inform, inspire, and empower its most marginalized citizens.

“The graphic design program at the University of Notre Dame employs a model of design for social good into its curriculum,” says Robert Sedlack ’89, an associate professor in Notre Dame’s Department of Art, Art History and Design.

So, with support from Notre Dame’s Center for Social Concerns, Center for Undergraduate Scholarly Engagement, and Kellogg Institute for International Studies, Sedlack and senior-level design students traveled to South Africa over spring break. There, they conducted on-the-ground research and analysis, ultimately creating together+, an educational and awareness campaign that includes a curriculum-based children’s story with a core message of strength and unity through diversity, a refugee rights pamphlet and health care poster, and a visual identity that fluidly communicates across South African language barriers.

The cultural challenges are great and the violence is real, but by harnessing the power of graphic communications, Notre Dame’s team of industrial and graphic design students is finding opportunities to actively change xenophobic beliefs and perceptions and, as Sedlack says, “to create positive social change” in South Africa.

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