2017 2017: Matthew Najarian '17: Shared Voices

Matthew Najarian '17
With his Shared Voices project, Matthew Najarian '17 wanted to promote the benefits of constructive and respectful dialogue.
2017 2017: Matthew Najarian '17: Shared Voices
Matthew Najarian '17: Shared Voices

Senior design project promoted campus diversity and dialogue.

Interest in digital media, graphic design

My interest in digital media came from a lengthy fascination with movies, dating back to my early years. I was utterly mesmerized by the likes of Toy Story and the other iconic Pixar films growing up and fell in love with their stylized form of animation. It wasn’t until I finally saw Star Wars for the first time that I knew I wanted to be involved in this art form somehow.

I spent a lot of my free time in high school working in 3D programs and creating my own short films. A lot of my skills were amateur and self-taught, so the next logical step was to pursue a more advanced curriculum, which I was able to find at UMass Dartmouth.

My interest in graphic design came in a more non-traditional fashion. When choosing electives in high school, I signed up for "Graphic Design 1," believing it was a course for special effects design. At first, I was not amused. There were too many letters and not enough lasers, but I eventually came around. The design program at my high school was very limited, but it sparked enough interest that I looked to continue my education in college.

Shared Voices - posters
Some of the posters Matthew created as part of the Shared Voices project, as displayed in the "gallery" section of the website.

Campaign to unify the campus

During the 2016 fall semester, my colleagues and I were tasked with coming up with ideas for our spring thesis projects. I had flirted with the concepts of music packaging design, but the ideas weren’t concrete enough.

Then, the election happened. I stared at the TV screen in confusion and outrage, fearful of what would follow. I woke up the next day to reports of widespread abuse and harassment towards minorities. It hadn’t even been 24 hours after the results. I was immediately concerned for the students who lived on campus, concerned that our minority student body would be threatened and feel unsafe.

It was at that moment I decided I wanted to do something about it. It was no longer a project about music packaging, but a campaign to unify the UMass Dartmouth campus.

I believed that Trump’s success was a result of the hostilities between Democrats and Republicans leading up to the election. Both sides were too stubborn and wrathful to have constructive political conversations about either candidate, leaving most of the country in gridlock. People did not have the chance to express their opinions in a respectful manner, and Trump was able to capitalize on that. I wondered: if we were able to speak to one another with respect about the political, social, and cultural issues in America, would we have reached this point as a nation? No, I believe we’d be in a much better place.

With college students being the next generation to inspire change in the world, I thought it was important to teach the benefits of open, constructive, and respectful dialogue to the students at UMass Dartmouth.

Shared Voices

The primary component of the project was a 12-poster series. During my research, I spoke with 12 students from various backgrounds, ethnicities, and leadership roles on campus in an effort to understand the level of political dialogue taking place on campus. The posters featured pull quotes from interviews, meant to make students think more about how they talk about politics and social issues. Alongside the quotes were hand-made illustrations of the interviewees that captured their energy and passion. A handful of posters also featured adverts for student organizations the interviewee was affiliated with. These student groups spoke on the relevant issues I was discussing on my posters and I thought it was important to give them more exposure.

The next component was a website for the campaign. At SharedVoices.org, you would find a page summarizing the goals of the SharedVoices campaign, as well as information about relevant student organizations and a gallery for all the posters.


Shared Voices encouraged students to get involved with campus organizations.

A wider perspective

To do a better job of encouraging our students to share their voices, I developed a poster series that contained the statistical information of all the students studying abroad at UMass Dartmouth.

The posters are meant to give students a wider perspective of the UMassD community and encourage them to go out and have experiences with new people. The best way to combat prejudice is to meet people and be open with them, and presenting students with this information is a step towards that. Students from abroad and even American students tend to stick to themselves and what they deem comfortable, but the world is too small for that!

Statistics to inspire change

At the CVPA Senior Design Show last spring, I also provided a series of takeaways. The takeaways were small rectangles of transparent film with words printed on them. Much like the previous series, these words were more statistics meant to inspire students to expand their horizons and meet more people. The statistics were specific to the UMassD community and presented information that revealed the true diversity of the campus, further encouraging individuals to be a part of a larger student body.

Powerful voices

The project's original goal was to get students to think more about how they talk about political, social, and cultural issues.

As I continued to delve deeper into my ideas and concepts, I realized it was also important to encourage recognizing diversity. College is one of the few opportunities we get to step out of our bubbles and meet new and different people; I wanted to communicate this to our students.

Another goal was to give students, both with and without leadership roles, an opportunity to share knowledge and their feelings with the rest of the student body. For students to see other students given the opportunity to speak is important and impactful for them.

I wanted to convince students that their voices are powerful, and they need to be shared. For their voices to be shared, it must be done in a respectful and constructive fashion. A lot of the students I spoke to pointed to a lack of unity in the student body, and I looked to change that.

Personal & professional learning experience

I held this project near and dear to my heart, and its impact on me was immeasurable. To speak to so many people from varying backgrounds and learn their stories was incredible. I learned so much from these wonderful students; they completely changed the way I think about everything.

What touched me the most were the thank you's I'd get. Every time I thanked someone for their help, they would respond, "No, thank you for doing this." It was incredibly heartwarming.

This project taught me how to juggle big ideas and concepts, while managing production work. I learned that being in charge of an intricate project with a lot of components is very challenging; it takes a lot of focus and drive to make sure it upholds design standards. Meeting deadlines and showing gradual improvement is a huge part of the design field. In the end, I was able to overcome these challenges and create a campaign I was happy with.

Support from faculty & staff

Working with the faculty at UMass Dartmouth was immeasurably helpful. Cynthia Cummings from Student Affairs was an invaluable asset throughout the entirety of my project. The connections she was able to provide me with, the advice she offered, and the overall enthusiasm she exuded made working day in and day out on this project a true pleasure.

I truly appreciate the help Nicole Williams of the Frederick Douglass Unity House provided me. She pointed me in the right direction early on in the project, connecting me with a large portion of the interviewees. At the end of my project, Nicole let me display my posters at the Unity House. Other faculty like Hillary Silva, Juli Parker, and Derek Costa were incredible resources.

Future plans

My plans for the future are to continue building upon my craft and gaining an even better understanding of what it takes to create successful design work. I look to find myself in a diverse environment that allows me to work on a number of different and exciting projects. The future is uncertain and sometimes frightening, but I have confidence that I will find myself where I want to be.

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