December 7, 2016

Webster needs a permanent space for student expression

Near the end of last semester, I cried in a bathroom. I was stressed. Like many students, I had a lot on my plate. My stress got the better of me one day during exam week and I couldn’t take it. So, I went to a women’s bathroom on the second floor of Sverdrup and let go. Then, I don’t know why, but I looked up. The words, “I love you” were written above the bathroom door. I immediately thought, “Why am I crying alone?” I called a close friend, and cried to her instead. She was a lot more comforting than the bathroom wall, that’s for sure.

Later, I spoke to a janitor and he said janitors have to scrub graffiti, mostly writing, off of bathroom walls every week. Sometimes, the graffiti does not come off after intense scrubbing and the university has to repaint walls to cover it up.
I don’t know the story behind the words I saw on the bathroom wall or the author’s decision to write them. But writing on campus property makes someone’s job harder. There are many motives that may lead someone to draw or paint on a wall. Graffiti is art. It is also used in campus bathrooms as a platform for discussion.

Illustration by Victoria Courtney

Illustration by Victoria Courtney

I often see markings in pen and marker on a stall in a girl’s bathroom in Svderdrup. Some of the markings appear to be there just because their author wanted to write on a wall. Graffiti and scribbles on walls on campus can make a stressful student feel better or provide a platform for expression — but it’s also vandalism. And janitors have to clean up that vandalism.

Graffiti may have positive effects, but it has negative effects for the people who have to clean it up. The janitors and maintenance crew on campus work hard to keep campus clean. They have long days, and we shouldn’t make their jobs more difficult. There are avenues for student expression that can produce those same positive effects for some without making someone’s job more difficult. Sure, Webster has the  Gor-rock, a rock near the Visual Arts Studio building on which students can paint and write. But that is just one place — and it doesn’t appear to be a popular one. Webster had the right idea with the Gor-rock. The university needs more of those ideas. It needs more of those opportunities.

A couple months ago “Before I Die” walls were set up in more than 15 cities around the world, including St. Louis. The walls were essentially giant chalkboards installed on the sides of buildings. They gave people the space to reflect on their dreams and see the dreams of others in their city.
Encourage the university to consider installing a permanent “Before I Die” wall, or a similar concept, on campus. The “Before I Die” website even has a tool kit you can order to create your own wall.

Another permanent space for student expression will not stop those who write on bathroom walls just because they can. To those students, think before you take the cap off your pen next time. Consider for a moment that what you write on campus property has the potential to make someone else’s job unnecessarily more difficult. Ask yourself, “Is this the most effective platform to deliver my message?”

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