‘Voices of Belonging’ exhibit to open Thursday

Northern Illinois University, NIU, light pole banners in DeKalb, IL on Thursday, May 13, 2021.

DeKALB – A new interactive audio exhibit, “Voices of Belonging,” will run Thursday through April 14 at Northern Illinois University’s Founders Memorial Library.

The exhibit’s opening reception will be from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Thursday on the main level of Founders Memorial Library in DeKalb. Remarks will be made at 4 p.m.

“Voices of Belonging” is a collaboration between NIU’s Northern Public Radio WNIU and WNIJ, the university’s Divisions of Outreach, Engagement and Regional Development and Academic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and various campus and community partners, including the photography program of the School of Art and Design. The exhibit builds upon last year’s “Faces of Belonging” exhibit, and a third exhibit, “Words of Belonging,” is planned to launch this fall.

The three-part series is meant to explore the greater NIU and DeKalb community’s residents, how they live and community inclusivity.

According to a news release, the exhibit “aims to deepen the communiversity’s understanding of belonging and othering by exploring personal lived experiences of campus and community members, and the insights of national belonging thought leaders.”

The interactive audio exhibit features 11 local residents and students who share their stories in their own voices, interviews with experts who define “belonging” and a rare recording of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaking to high school students about belonging. Angela Baron Jeffrey, who moderated NIU’s community conversation with dr. james a. powell, serves as the audio host.

Jennifer Groce – co-coordinator of the Belonging Collaborative with Monique Bernoudy, assistant vice president of NIU’s office of academic diversity, equity and inclusion – described the exhibit as community members telling their stories of belonging in their own voice.

“People shared their story unrehearsed,” Groce said. “They were honest and real about their experiences and what ‘belonging’ means to them. It is a very captivating and very encouraging exhibit.”

Free disposable headphones are available at the exhibit, and the audio stories can be heard by scanning a QR code. There also will be three MP3 players available with the stories for listening.

“The exhibit is free and open to the public, accessible to everyone so we can all learn together about one another’s stories and invite others to share their stories of belonging,” Groce said. “It also encourages self-reflection. The final panel of the exhibit is an invitation for the community to answer the questions asked themselves and submit their own recording.”

Three final questions were asked of each interview participant. Visitors to the exhibit are invited to consider the questions and submit their own personal recording.

“Voices of Belonging” is a traveling exhibit. The installation will travel to the DeKalb Public Library April 25 through May 8 and to Kishwaukee College in the fall. The goal is for the exhibit to travel to various campus and community locations including schools, houses of faith, public buildings and other locations throughout DeKalb County.

Those wishing to host the traveling exhibit can submit a request for review to Groce at jgroce@niu.edu or Monique Bernoudy at mbernoudy@niu.edu.

The exhibit can only be used indoors and must be in a safe and secure location that is monitored, and a staff member must be available to distribute and collect disposable headphones and MP3 players as needed.