Graffiti Removal on Campus

The Reed campus is speckled with student-created graffiti, whether it’s little notes scrawled in library restrooms or huge amalgamations of art and thought in the Pool Hall. Certain parts of campus, such as the KRRC studio and the basement restrooms of the GCC, remain notable spots where graffiti is central to the aesthetics of the location. Students may have noticed, however, that certain pieces disappear over time. 

Photo courtesy of Beau Crawford

Over the past year there have been multiple instances of highly visible pro-social justice graffiti being removed. In March of 2021, on Trans Day of Visibility, chalk graffiti promoting trans liberation all around campus was pressure washed very soon after it appeared. In January 2022 on Holocaust Remembrance Day, a banner which read “we will outlive them” in English, Hebrew, and Yiddish was posted on the side of the library and taken down shortly thereafter. 

There has also been evidence of graffiti which criticizes Reed’s administration being singled out for removal. In September 2021, Katherine Draves ‘22 did an experiment where she and some of her friends put up anti-administration graffiti and noted when it was taken down. They put up graffiti that said “ACAB :),” “Reed doesn’t care about their students,” and “Reed doesn’t give a shit about your mental health” in the right GCC basement bathroom, and wrote “The admin doesn’t care about you” in the handicapped stall. A week later, when they returned to the bathroom, “ACAB” and “Reed doesn’t care about their students” were completely blurred over; for “Reed doesn’t care about your mental health,” the words “Reed,”  “doesn’t,” “care,” and “health,” were obscured, leaving only the words “give a shit about our mental.”

The graffiti which read, “the admin doesn’t care about you” remained in place, and still does today, likely because it was in a more out of the way location in the bathroom. Draves also noted that more innocuous Graffiti remained in place. “One of my friends had put up ‘seniors rule, juniors drool’, just as a joke — that didn’t get altered,” she said. 

Also in the GCC Bathroom was written “Aziz did nothing wrong,” referring to the controversy surrounding the administration’s response to an email sent by the former Student Body President, and Draves noted that the word “Aziz” had been continuously covered up and rewritten. Today, it stands uncovered. 

Concerns on graffiti removal have been expressed by the student body. Mud Bentley ‘24, a student and graffiti artist, expressed the value of graffiti, stating, “When I see graffiti, it makes me happy for the most part. It doesn’t show disrespect to me; it shows care. Somebody cares about this place enough that they want to be a part of the aesthetic.” They go on to highlight sentiment surrounding the removal of graffiti around campus, saying, “I think graffiti is wonderful, and it gives a lot of wonderful insight into the kind of community that we are. It’s a tool for organizing and calling people to action, or just to make people smile. Removing it seems like it takes so much time that could otherwise be spent on something productive.” 

Steve Yeadon, the director of Facilities Services, walked us through the process of removing graffiti on campus. He explained, “If something is identified as hate speech, derogatory to anyone in any way, names people, we’ll go in and we’ll remove that item. We leave everything else.” 

Gary Granger, director of Community Safety, expanded on this. “Almost without exception, the college will remove graffiti if it targets a person. Targeting graffiti by person, by group, by ethnicity is always gonna be removed.” 

Both Yeadon and Granger emphasized that their ultimate intent in removing graffiti is to protect all stakeholders on campus. Yeadon stated that he would rather “err on the side of caution” than risk harming individuals or groups within the Reed community. Moreover, Community Safety coordinates with the Office of Institutional Diversity (OID) when they make decisions on graffiti removal. Granger stated, “They [OID] assess if it’s harassing, or discriminatory, or targeting toward a specific group.” When graffiti is determined to be potentially derogatory or triggering, the report is sent to Facilities Services for removal.

Aside from targeted graffiti, both Yeadon and Granger also consider damage to property as a reason for graffiti removal. Yeadon, referring to himself as “the steward of this property,” explained why removal is deemed necessary on certain structures on campus, saying, “Some graffiti and some media can cause damage, and so if it’s on a brick surface, and it’s spray paint, I just have to do it. It doesn’t matter what the message is, it’s gotta come off because you’re now altering physical structure and it’s gonna change that experience for everyone else on campus.” Yeadon particularly focused on the damages that occur when graffiti is placed on brick surfaces, as brick is porous and cannot be removed once it seeps into the deeper crevices of the material. 

Granger added to this idea of maintaining the buildings on campus, stating, “In a technical way, graffiti is damage to property. I understand the complexities here, […] but in the community sense, if you paint on the side of a building, that’s damage to the building.”

Ultimately, Yeadon recognizes and values student expression and does not intend to quell student voices by removing graffiti. Yeadon said, “It’s responsive and not adversarial. […] We’re just trying to take care of everyone. It’s about having the ability to nurture that expression, but also taking care of everyone’s feelings.” He states that no party actively seeks out graffiti removal, and the process is organic and complaint-based. 

Granger agreed with this, saying, “If graffiti gets put up somewhere, and that tree falls, and nobody hears it, and it doesn’t seem to bother anybody, and no one says anything, it might stay for a very long time.”

The selective censoring of bathroom graffiti that Draves observed differed from previous graffiti policy. According to Draves, in prior years the GCC bathrooms would be completely cleared out each summer while remaining untouched by admin during the school year. Draves also observed that sometime in October or November, anti-administration graffiti stopped disappearing.

Yeadon went on to emphasize that communication between the student body and the administration is paramount to maintaining the balance between student expression and the protection of the community and its spaces. This plays to both sides of the action; if a member of the community is distressed by a particular piece or if somebody feels that a graffiti piece of importance was taken down, Yeadon opens the door to discourse about improving courses of action for all the stakeholders within Reed.

Draves noted that the removal of graffiti from the GCC bathroom has caused people to be more enthusiastic about marking it up. “Honestly, that bathroom has never been more graffiti-ed,” Draves said. “Once people realized things were being taken down, they got even more obsessed with putting it up.”

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