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Rutgers student designs murals for School of Social Work

The Rutgers School of Social Work's building features 20 murals designed by Ria Monga, a School of Arts and Sciences senior. – Photo by @rutgersu / Instagram

On March 28, the Rutgers School of Social Work unveiled a collection of murals reflecting the school's guiding principles, centered around the phrase: "Toward a More Just Future."  The school adopted this motto in 2020 to outline its values and intentions for the coming five years. 

Cathryn Potter, the dean of the School of Social Work, said the school's physical building on Albany Street offers ample window space that can be used creatively — including for murals.

"(The murals) really called out for a big statement about who we are as a profession and as a school," she said.

Last summer, a group of 10 employees of the School of Social Work met to coordinate the murals' creation, design and messaging.

Catie Buttner, an editorial and media specialist for the School of Social Work and one of the employees involved in the planning, said the group was committed to incorporating values of "community and social justice" into the final art piece.

"One of the main conversations among the working group was around the message we hoped the mural would portray," she said. "The working group was passionate about ensuring we were clear on what we stood for and utilized the opportunity to really reflect that message."

After deciding on the murals' messages, the group transitioned into choosing an artist to create them. Laurie Zazenski, the director of communications for the School of Social Work, said the program coordinated with Mason Gross School of the Arts faculty to find potential candidates.

Interested students provided samples of their artwork to be considered. The School of Social Work ultimately chose Ria Monga, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, to create the mural collection.

While Monga had prior experience designing murals in the Jersey City area, it was her first time being commissioned as an artist by the University.

She said she was encouraged to apply for the opportunity due to her interest in the School of Social Work's professed values.

Monga said Cassandra Oliveras-Moreno, administrator of communications and collaboration in the Department of Art and Design, vice-chair of the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee for Mason Gross and co-founder of Windows of Understanding, reached out to her with details on the application process.

"I just emailed (Zazenski) my portfolio as well as my resume and let her know a little bit about myself, and (the School of Social Work) ended up selecting me, which is insane," she said. "I wasn't expecting it at all."

Monga said the murals took approximately a month to complete, including digital designs and communication with Buttner and Zazenski.

Signarama, a Piscataway-based company, printed the 20 mural panels that are now featured on the School of Social Work's building at the corner of George Street and Albany Street.

"On each street front, 'Toward a More Just Future' is spelled out in words and in sign language, with each pane of window art illustrating a social justice issue," Potter said. "Honestly, the final installation is so much more wonderful than what we could have envisioned."

The murals reference sign language, the Black Lives Matter movement, the Women's March and the LGBTQ+ community, Monga said. The murals also contain hidden words such as "advancement," "development" and "equity."

"Everyone should care about these matters," she said. "I was just pulling things that I felt were prevalent in our community or I could see a lot of discourse about currently."

Monga also spoke to the importance of having the murals in a central location where the University meets with members of the larger New Brunswick community.

She said she hopes the content of her designs will start a dialogue among those seeing them for the first time. Monga said that despite her reserved personality, art has allowed her to express herself creatively.

"(Art) speaks for me, and it speaks louder than I could ever, so I'm just really grateful for the opportunity," she said.

Potter said that while every mural panel symbolizes a separate social justice issue, the entire collection amplifies the importance of these issues.

Additionally, she said the placement of the murals is representative of the dedication the School of Social Work shares in bettering communities.

"Social workers address social problems at multiple levels, but always with an eye to the needs and desires of communities," Potter said. "So, illustrating that intersection between our profession and community, at this prominent intersection in New Brunswick, makes it clear that as a school, we chose to be embedded in this community."

Editor's note: This article was updated to correctly identify an individual.

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