Wichita State University’s first Belonging Plaza took place Saturday, April 24, east of Weidemann Hall.
Belonging Plaza is an outdoor pop-up commemorative gathering and programming tool designed to move to different locations on campus. It is meant to allow student and community groups to highlight a variety of underrepresented or marginalized trailblazers.
Saturday’s inaugural event honored Kristi Parker, the founder and publisher of Liberty Press, the longest-running LGBTQ news magazine in the United States. Parker died in 2018. Her family, colleagues, friends and admirers will be present to commemorate her contributions to the LGBTQ community and to her hometown of Wichita. Parker was also an alum of Wichita State.
The plaza is a collaboration between Kristin Beal, WSU Strategic Communications’ placemaking coordinator, and Armando Minjarez, Office of Diversity and Inclusion student diversity programs coordinator. It was also funded by the Knight Foundation Fund at the Wichita Community Foundation.
“We wanted to create a space that focused on underrepresented communities, and that’s how we started brainstorming different ideas,” Minjarez said. “We arrived at the concept of a type of pop-up programming space that could be implemented for April.”
According to Minjarez, April is typically a month when a lot of schools and universities have LGBTQ-focused programming, and they wanted to the first pop-up plaza to be at that time. They had to work very quickly in two months to get the layout and first event accomplished.
“We knew that it would have to be done really quickly,” he said. “We kept saying we’re building the airplane in the air.”
To mark the sight of the pop-up, the plaza features eight to 10 cylindrical columns with sloped tops. One of the columns is the naming column with Belonging Plaza inscribed to its slope. The remaining columns are designed to have changeable plates for their sloped tops that can be switched out as newly selected people are commemorated.
Moving forward, Minjarez hopes the plaza will continue to be an engagement tool that students use throughout the year to make their own.
“By giving them this pop-up space to think about a trailblazer that represents their community, or their identities, and then to memorialize that person on campus, [it will continue] to offer them opportunities to take ownership of their campus to feel seen and been seen by their peers and the faculty and the staff,” he said.