By Fiona Flowers

For The Diamondback

University of Maryland community members came together Sunday to discuss identity politics, reclaiming agency and the nuances of autonomy during a panel commemorating the life and legacy of American abolitionist Harriet Tubman.

The fourth annual “Harmonies of Liberty” event, hosted by this university’s women, gender and sexuality studies department, featured keynote speaker Tatyana Fazlalizadeh and other activists who celebrated Tubman — the department’s namesake — and spoke about the importance of advocacy.

A renowned contemporary artist and social activist, Fazlalizadeh is best known for her “Stop Telling Women to Smile” project, which raises awareness about street harassment and gender-based inequality.

For Fazlalizadeh, challenging power dynamics and amplifying marginalized voices through art is crucial to create change, she said at the event.

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“Personal experiences of oppression and discrimination are not isolated incidents, but are shaped by larger social, political and economic systems,” she said. “This concept aims to bring attention to the ways in which personal struggles are political issues that require collective action and systemic change.”

Fazlalizadeh cited Tubman as a pillar of freedom, adding that she draws inspiration for her own work from Tubman’s advocacy.

In her speech, Fazlalizadeh said that by displaying her art in public spaces, she challenges notions of who is deserving of occupying space versus who is not.

“A lot of times when experiencing street harassment, it can feel as if you are stepping into someone else’s territory, as if you do not belong there,” Fazlalizadeh said. “To place my body in a place where it’s treated as if it doesn’t belong, and taking back this physical space that no one gave me permission to put up, to take, is a very crucial part of this work.”

Other speakers joined Fazlalizadeh at the event, including Ernestine “Tina” Wyatt, who is Tubman’s great-great-great-grandniece.

Wyatt, an alum of this university, addressed her ancestor’s extraordinary life and legacy. She praised Tubman for her abolitionist efforts as a renowned conductor of the Underground Railroad.

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Tubman was also a military informant for the Union Army during the Civil War, Wyatt said, which is a vastly overlooked aspect of her career.

“She also lived her life as an activist, fighting against injustice and inequality,” Wyatt said. “She was an abolitionist. She was an underground railroad conductor. She was a Civil War spy and scout, and she was also an activist … under an unjust and cruel system.”

Sunday’s ceremony also celebrated two students at this university — junior graphic design major Elijah Doster and junior psychology major Leo Osei — who won this year’s poster design contest for the event.

Doster received a framed rendition of his submission to the design competition and a certificate of acknowledgement. Doster said he did not expect to be recognized for his work, but was honored to be featured among the other speakers and artists.

“Very, very powerful speakers, amazing stories that we got to hear and just a unique opportunity to get to listen to people that have something really important to say,” Doster said.