In designing a wall mural for IWU’s Multicultural Center, Lucy Sanchez ’17 reflected on all that it means to be a part of the campus community.
Story by KIM HILL Photos by ROBERT FRANK III ’14
Lucy Sanchez ’17 thinks big, whether about her art or the world around her.
An art major at Illinois Wesleyan, Sanchez has designed and painted a mural entitled
“La Lucha de Colores” (“The Struggle of Colors”) for the Multicultural Center on campus.
The 15-foot-long and 8-foot-high work depicts the journey of a student of color as
he or she progresses through the IWU experience, while also acknowledging the current
atmosphere of racial relations in society.
Sanchez has long admired street art, and as a Chicago native was well acquainted with
the city’s Pilsen neighborhood and its many murals. She was deeply influenced by her
study of Mexican muralism, which typically conveys social and political messages.
“I’ve always felt murals were art that belonged to a community,” she says. “It’s more
accessible in comparison to a lot of art that is very fine art, making fine art a
privilege because it’s expensive. Street art tells you what’s going on in that community,
even if it’s angry. Street art is reality.”
The idea for the mural was an outgrowth of Sanchez’s experience in Ireland, where
she studied on an IWU Study Abroad Scholarship through a fund established by Betty
Ritchie-Birrer ’47. Sanchez chose to document her time there by creating original works informed by her experiences in the Emerald Isle.
Her artwork focusing on identity “was my way of finding my place in Ireland, a very
different culture than I’m accustomed to, coming from a Mexican-American household.
All the pieces were my way of figuring myself out and trying to establish myself in
this new environment while struggling with culture shock and homesickness.”
After her study-abroad experience, Sanchez began to see her work “as saying something,”
and shared her desire to create something ‘big’ in a conversation with Brandon Common,
then the director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI). Dialogue involving
a reimagining of the space in the Multicultural Center was already underway, so Common
suggested Sanchez brainstorm some ideas for a mural to adorn the focal wall of the
center, which is a gathering place for all students to study and socialize.
“As an administrator, I believe it is our responsibility to support students in their
aspirations, so I saw the creation of the mural as a way to showcase Lucy’s talents
because she is a phenomenal student and woman of color,” says Common, who is now assistant
dean of students for campus life. “I also thought the mural would enliven the Multicultural
Center and capture what is happening at this moment in time, and I wanted future students
to see what one of ‘their own’ did while a student at IWU.”
Using a Kente stole denoting multicultural pride as a unifying element, Sanchez designed
the mural with pathways beginning at The Ames Library and the Sesquicentennial Gates.
These locations are included in campus tours and quickly become cultural icons for
new students. “The stole works as a pathway leading your experience around Illinois
Wesleyan,” Sanchez says, noting the stole includes elements of national flags representing
the cultural backgrounds of Illinois Wesleyan students. Activism is portrayed, both
on campus and in the world.
She also included depictions of dancers to illustrate the importance of joy and celebration
in the face of oppression. “We try to celebrate our cultures in multiple ways, and
I wanted to include that.”
The pathway ends with a graduation cap, the symbolic end of the journey. A panel near
the end of the stole celebrates the Class of 2017; Sanchez used chalkboard paint for
this panel so that it can be changed each year to celebrate a new graduating class.
Sanchez’s own college experience began as a junior at Chicago’s John F. Kennedy High
School. Her counselor recommended her for the Chicago Scholars Foundation, a nonprofit
that helps high-performing, first-generation Chicago students navigate the college
admission process. Chicago Scholars sponsors workshops on applications and financial
aid, one-on-one mentoring and networking. Dozens of colleges and universities recruit
at the annual Chicago Scholars Onsite admission forum, where an IWU admissions counselor
requested a meeting with Sanchez.
Helping her “through every step of the process,” the counselor also urged Sanchez
to visit campus during Multicultural Weekend and ¡Tu Universidad!, an event designed to help Latino/a students and their parents learn more about the
University community, the admissions process and financial aid resources.
At IWU Sanchez has thrived as an art and business administration double major. She
is president of Kappa Pi honorary art fraternity and a student programmer for the
Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and she previously served as an officer in the
Spanish and Latino Student Association (SALSA).
“Illinois Wesleyan offers opportunities to become who you want to be, and to fight
for what you believe in,” she says. “There are some great people here who constantly
support students in their fights against injustices, not only on this campus but in
While the mural she created for the Multicultural Center reflects Illinois Wesleyan’s
sense of community, it also illustrates frustration students of color can feel on
a predominantly white campus.
“When I started the project, I think one of my goals was to empower people,” says
Sanchez. On one of the mural’s panels, she utilized a quote from activist Yareliz
Elena Mendez-Zamora. Sanchez wanted to make a statement that people of color are not
alone and they’re not going anywhere. “We’re here because we earned it,” she says,
referring to students of color on college campuses and people of color as leaders
in industry, the private sector and public office.
Common says Sanchez has left an indelible mark with the mural’s completion. “I hope
the mural speaks to marginalized students and lets them know they matter and that
they are valued at IWU,” he says. “I also hope that it tells a story of perseverance
and determination and also challenges those who look at it to reflect on where we
are as a community and where we can be if we continue to support each other.
“I hope this mural will continue to promote the Multicultural Center as a space where
all students matter, while also challenging future students to leave their mark somewhere
else, in some way, on campus.”