Students Contribute to FSH Cultural Awareness Program, By Chrissy Burkholder ’06

Imagine an intricate paint mixture, one with many colors—red for passion, blue for tranquility, green for knowledge, purple for unity, yellow for hope, white for peace and black for strength against odds.

Now, imagine rainbows of color representing all the human diversities in culture, race, religion, sexual orientation, age and physical and mental abilities.

These painted pictures represent one women’s drive to inform society about controversial, divisive issues using images drawn by skillful students from William Woods University.

Her name is Jane Bierdeman-Fike and she is the consultant for Fulton State Hospital’s Cultural Competence Council, which aims to create awareness of the unique differences among individual groups.

Bierdeman-Fike’s passion stems from her career as director of psychiatric social work for Fulton State Hospital for 38 years. She also has a long-standing connection with William Woods University and its social work department. She was the university’s commencement speaker in August 2001 and received an honorary degree at that time.

She is the fundamental link between the hospital’s program and the William Woods students.

Earlier this fall, a partnership was conceived between the Cultural Competence Council and William Woods, and immediately embraced by the university’s division of visual, performing and communication arts.

Bierdeman-Fike joined forces with Terry Martin, WWU professor of art, and requested that college students create artistic designs that focused on the cultural awareness program’s main goal.

“Instead of the dry legalistic language of cardboard posters stating policies prohibiting harassment and discrimination, colorful living concepts will be artistically communicated to the staff of Fulton State Hospital,” Bierdeman-Fike said.

The images will also be available to the faculty and students of WWU, and later to the wider community through a special art show at the Mildred Cox Gallery on campus.

To begin with, Bierdeman-Fike and Martin wrote powerful messages and gave them to students to incorporate into the theme of their artwork. These statements were later stamped across the pictures.

Sarah Williams, a sophomore art major from Brookfield, said, “We created pictures of water or nature with calming colors and soothing images. Then, we used the slogan of our choice to title the picture. For instance, one said ‘Every hour a hate crime is committed,’ while another simply read ‘Understand yourself.’”

Other students who have created artwork for the project this semester are Andy Long, a senior from Stockton, Calif.; Crystal Goeringer, a sophomore from St. Charles; Allison Hedges, a junior from Kansas City, Mo., and Brandon Ripley, a junior from Pomona, Kan. Additional students will be involved next semester.

According to Bierdeman-Fike, “The goal of the project is to use artistic methods to sensitize the viewers to the differences and uniqueness of individuals in our culture.”

She added, “Through this experience, we hope they will become more aware of their own biases and be more open to understand other races, cultures and lifestyles. Such goals form the basis for the educational mission of William Woods and the treatment mission of Fulton State Hospital.”

Overall, Bierdeman-Fike said, “This project is a critical ongoing mission that has been built upon for years. It is a program that will continue to grow until the day when issues defining self (race, religion, ethnicity) are no longer issues, but elements of a person’s unique character.”

Martin commented, “The late Ed Davis of Fulton, a long-time state hospital psychologist, introduced me to Jane Bierdeman-Fike. I remember the way Ed worked to bring people together in spiritual ways. I miss his words of wisdom and now have the privilege to continue some of Ed’s work by assisting Jane with this creative effort.”