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Central Standard

KU Student Explores Kansas Gun Law In Art Project


At the beginning of May, during finals week at KU, an art project flashed across buildings on campus at night.

Miguel Calderon, who was a senior art student at the time, wanted to start a conversation about guns on campus.

Inspired by the Kansas law that, starting in July 2017, will permit concealed carry in state hospitals and universities, he created the hashtag “#GunsNHawks.” He asked people to start using that it on Facebook and on Twitter, and he projected their comments onto walls around KU.

There were two sort of responses, he said. One was from people who used the hashtag to comment online. The other was from people as they came out of buildings on campus and read the words on the walls.

“There were many comments on social media,” he told host Gina Kaufmann on KCUR’s Central Standard. “Most of them were explaining how they didn’t feel secure with guns on campus. But outside, most approached me and said they liked what I was doing.”

He said that two men came up to him and told him that they were proud gun owners. And even though they knew that guns were prohibited on campus, they brought them anyway because they felt safer that way.

According to Calderon, these two guys were expecting to see anti-gun comments.

“They were surprised because, if anything, my project was trying to create a conversation. And I didn’t want to have comments that lean only to one side of the topic. There were comments in favor of guns on campus,” he said.

One comment, he said, was along the lines of: If the university isn’t doing anything to protect us from threats, then maybe the students should be in charge of protecting themselves.

Calderon was born in Spain and he moved to Peru when he was 7-years-old. After high school, he applied to colleges in the United States. KU offered him a scholarship, so he came to Lawrence and studied engineering.

After two years, though, he switched to art.

“It actually came very naturally to me (to switch majors),” he said. During his first two years at school, he was interested in exploring different subjects, such as acting, psychology, theater, design and film.

“And I think, if anything, artists are people who get their hands on different fields because they want to say something about issues that matter. And for that, you need a lot of things,” he said.

The idea for his project about guns on campus came while he was enrolled in a public art class. As an artist working in photography, video and animation – and as someone who was interested in the topic – he used what he knew to put it together.

“It turned out great,” he said.

“Actually, I was quite afraid that I was going to get bothered or that I was going to get asked to stop since I’m basically changing the aesthetics of public buildings with light for a brief period of time. But no one did bother me. There was a point where even some security guards just walked by and didn’t say anything to me,” he added.

Issues about diversity and transgender bathrooms contribute to a sense of safety on campus, said Calderon.

In the United States, he said, when you’re a student and you’re far from home and on your own, it’s important to feel like you’re part of a community that values you.

“I went to school in Peru, and I still lived with family, and most people lived with family. School was just a separate institute,” he said. “But I think in the U.S., college is basically the center of life. And I think it’s important to feel that you’re accepted and you’re not going to feel diminished because of any aspects in your life.”

He felt safe during his four years at KU, he said. And since he’s moving to New York, the law is not going to directly affect him.

However, the conversation about guns on campus has worried people, Calderon said.

“When there’s no conversation, people become oblivious to it in some way,” he said. “But as the date approaches (when the law goes into effect), I think it’s a necessity to start talking about it.”

Jen Chen is associate producer for KCUR's Central Standard. Reach out to her at jen@kcur.org.