By Miranda Jackson
For The Diamondback
A student held her arms in front her chest, inked in black marker with the words "unapologetically you," as she was photographed for the Dear World portrait project Thursday afternoon.
Next to her were University of Maryland students, teachers and staff, each with their own message scrawled across their upper bodies, waiting to be photographed against a black back drop. The portable studio was set up in Stamp Student Union next to Adele's.
Dear World is a project aimed to facilitate connections among community members through portrait photos, which are intended to capture a single identifying characteristic of the subject, said the project's founder Robert Fogarty.
The Dear World project is in the middle of a nationwide college tour, which prompted their visit to this university. The organization visits more than 50 universities each year, according to its website.
"There's something really intimate about portraits," Fogarty said. "[The portrait] is a lede to a story that only one person can tell. This isn't a project of anonymity. We want it to be a message and a story that you are inviting others to ask you about."
Oluwatomisin Akinrinade, a geographic information systems major, was between three phrases before going up for his photo, but ultimately decided on "by any other name."
A son of Nigerian immigrants, Akinrinade took many nicknames in school to prevent people from mispronouncing his real name. He said his portrait symbolized how much he wished he didn't have to lessen his name for the comfort of others.
"My name has an actual meaning in Yoruba," Akinrinade said. "It means 'God is good enough for you to serve.' Breaking that name down takes the meaning away."
Fogarty urged subjects not to write things as simple as political slogans or Greek life mantras for their portraits, but to instead search for something that defines their individuality.
There were nearly a dozen student volunteers present as guides of the project, who are trained to help the portrait subjects pull out their best story to tell.
Another subject, Gizem Guven, senior plants sciences major, wrote, "boarders won't stop this doctor from spreading love," across her chest and upper arms. As a Turkish immigrant, Guven intends to take part in Doctors Without Borders, and used these words to express her life's mission as an aspiring surgeon.
"I have learned so much by coming [to the United States]," Guven said. "I just want to spread the love that I have learned here to everyone out there."
This project provides an outlet for a sort of discussion about touchy subjects, Guven said, which are often not discussed across this campus.
"If people aren't willing to take that one step, then I'll be the one to do it," Guven said.
During the photo shoot, Fogarty pulled some of the subjects aside to hear their full stories. Afterward, he selected four of the most compelling stories from the over two hundred photos taken Thursday to place in a lecture-style exhibition in Hoff Theatre that night.
Nicku Keshavarz, a sophomore biology major, was one of the students to have her story chosen. In her portrait, her arms read, "There was a dirt road."
Keshavarz, whose mother was in the audience, was born in China. At one year old, she was adopted by her Iranian parents and moved to the United States. Six years later, they adopted her sister.
After revisiting her hometown many years ago, she came across an old dirt road that would serve as a symbol to her of her home country for years to come.
"Sometimes I think about how I would have grown up as a person if I had lived by that dirt road," Keshavarz said. "I just want to remind everyone that in the end, we should never forget why we're different, because that's what makes us people."