Artists fight prejudice

February 6, 1998

Students are holding their own multinational talks on the future of Northern Ireland in Belfast

Shane Whelehan is a fine art graduate of Ulster University, now holding the sabbatical post of vice president in the university's Belfast union.

He says students can play a part in the peace process by being active in communities, confronting the reasons for sectarian prejudice and trying to overcome suspicion.

Fine art students have played a practical part in combatting prejudice in Belfast, offering community groups the skill and workforce to paint murals celebrating, for example, local landmarks or industries rather than traditional sectarian themes.

"If you haven't got hope, you have nothing," he says. There is apathy, with people feeling so worn down that they expect no improvement. Students are not exempt from bigotry, he adds.

But last week's "Stop all the Killings" rallies, supported by the National Union of Students-Union of Students in Ireland are important, he said. "The people who are going around committing these murders are anonymous and invisible. But they can see us and a mass demonstration that wants an end to these murders. They're not acting on our behalf."

He detects an increasing interest in political developments, and more willingness to understand opposing points of view. He believes students are more open-minded than their peers, but says awareness in general has increased through the expansion in communications, such as television debates and phone-in polls.

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