A home. A healthy family. A good job. Two feet to carry you up the stairs.
These are among the things assistant professor Misty Thomas-Trout ’11 remembers focusing her thanks on in the first weeks of the pandemic.
And so, in March 2020 when University classes went online and students and faculty went home to shelter in place, she decided to put her thanks, reflections and dreams for her students on paper, a personal message to each Flyer in her Graphic Design One class.
As she climbed into bed and propped herself up on pillows — PJs already on at 7 p.m. — Thomas-Trout pulled out white writing paper and a black
Ticonderoga pencil. She scribed each student’s name at the top, and then began, “I write with a heavy, yet hopeful heart.”
“I wanted to just talk freely,” Thomas-Trout said later, “and let these students see their professor as vulnerable, let the students understand that we are also humans, we have families, we have situations. I wanted to bring them into my life in that way, so I just wrote what was on my heart.”
Her goal, she said, was to overwhelm them with the positive. While pandemic and racial strife filled their news feeds, she shared with them her stories of triumph and her hopes for their time at home and in the future.
“My hand was cramping like crazy,” she said. “There’s something really human about mark making. We’ve been wanting to leave marks since the dawn of time.”
“There’s something really human about mark making. We’ve been wanting to leave marks since the dawn of time.”
When she was done, she looked at the three pages and realized she could not send them by mail; she was among those of us sanitizing every letter and shoe that entered our homes. Instead, she scanned her letter and emailed it to her students.
Her students replied with emails of thanks.
In that spring semester early in the pandemic, with her students now scattered, Thomas-Trout found she needed new projects to replace her previously planned assignments. So, while not originally conceived as a class project, the letter turned into one. Titled “Silver Lining,” the task called students to use type and image to pull out the positives from the letter. They would use the skills learned in her class to reinforce goodness.
“As graphic designers, we have a huge responsibility to pay attention to the messages we create and put into the visual culture,” she said. “Visual communicators shape and condition culture. We also know that we’ve caused great pain in the past through images as stereotypes.
“Visual communicators shape and condition culture. We also know that we’ve caused great pain in the past through images as stereotypes.”
“If I could force them to sit and create a poster for the next five hours or whatever it took and make them only think about what I was saying positively, then they would have this overarching positive outcome from it.”
Claire Brewer created a triptych, a three-paneled layout that both adds to and takes away from Thomas-Trout’s original letter. Brewer erased words and then repeated key phrases three times, such as “May you see this time as one of reflection.”
Lucy Rauker used bold colors and assorted typefaces to highlight sentences that spoke to her, like, “We are all in this together.”
“When you send a letter, you’re secretly hoping to get one back,” said Thomas-Trout. That’s what she received in the assignment of Kathryn Niekamp, who picked phrases from the original letter and remade them as a response to her professor. Among Niekamp’s words were these: “We have the ability to create. Take the time to love yourself, to be grateful for life, and be protective of others. That’s the silver lining.”
She signed it, “Sincerely, Kat.”
Said Thomas-Trout of the assignment, “I think it served its purpose, and that’s what graphic design is meant to do. What’s your purpose? What is the impact you want to leave?”
“What’s your purpose? What is the impact you want to leave?”
Sometimes, the impact continues long after the assignment is done.
View all student projects online at ecommons.udayton.edu/stu_vad_covid19.