Cartoons create connections in Ruston Hall

Author's note: This article was written before the University moved to remote work and online learning due to COVID-19. Though we are away from campus, we wanted to share this story and its message of connection. 

Elaine Beliles and Emily Dawkins in front of Emily's wall of dry erase drawingsLong before most of its residents roll out of bed, Elaine Beliles weaves her way through Ruston Hall, sweeping floors, emptying trash cans and cleaning restrooms. “I usually have 10,000 steps in by 9 a.m.,” she says. But no matter how busy the USI custodian is, she won’t end a shift without stopping by the second-floor study room. “Every day I’m checking.”

For the past month, Beliles has been admiring an impromptu art exhibit—a growing collection of cartoons inching their way across the wall. “How could you not be struck by it?” she asks. “To me, any time you’re putting yourself out there, I’m pretty blown away by it.”

Popeye and Spongebob cartoon drawingsEmily Dawkins ’23, global studies, never expected to develop a dry erase fan base. “I was bored, and my friends were drawing, so I just started drawing with them,” she says. “I was going to stop, but people started leaving requests.”

One marker at a time, she’s recreated two dozen famous characters, everything from Tom and Jerry to The Mandalorian. And word is spreading—beyond her Global Communities LLC. “There have been a lot of people coming in like, ‘Oh, this is really nostalgic. I love this.’ And that makes me feel good,” she says. “I now know some students on the basement floor who I hang out with and talk to …. They came and saw the artwork. And I’ve got RAs from the LLCs telling me that [my work] was blowing up in their group chats, and they were all talking about it.”

Tom and Jerry cartoon drawingBut Beliles may be the most excited to see what Dawkins draws next; she’s even passed on a few Magic Erasers to help her fine tune the delicate designs. “She’s got a gift,” Beliles says. “It stirs something in your gut. It just conjures up a desire to pick up my own pencils and brushes and go to it.”

There’s no guarantee how long Dawkins’ spot-on sketches will survive. "I’m not going to erase them, but if someone needs to for midterms or finals, that’s totally fine,” she says.

For now, she’s enjoying the camaraderie and connections her cartoons are creating. Because unlike the ink her illustrations are drawn in, they might just be permanent.


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