If you’ve walked past Trillium or the Grove since returning to campus, you’ve likely noticed graffiti covering some of the walls. Many questions surround these spray-painted letters–who put them there? What was their motive? And when, or where, will they strike again?
Now erased, much of the graffiti carried messages that were not inherently harmful nor targeted a specific group of people. However, the consequence of the expressions goes beyond their simple meaning. Some Reedies dislike the graffiti and associated artist, citing that such actions cause additional and unnecessary work for custodians.
The majority of the graffiti has been on the walls of freshman dorm Trillium. Though much of the graffiti is now gone, there are some that recall a few of the statements that were painted. A student who asked not to be named commented that they “came out of Trillium to find some graffiti on the glass saying ‘Don’t have sex’”.
To learn more about the recent graffiti on-campus, the Quest reached out to Community Safety Officer Dhyana Westfall. When asked for a comment, Reed’s Community Safety office provided the following report:
We did not see this level of graffiti on dorms/buildings over the summer, and there’s been a definite uptick since students returned to campus (between 5/17/22 and 8/22/22 there were 4 graffiti reports written by CSOs; between 8/22/22 and 9/29/22 there were 13 graffiti reports written by CSOs)
The typical Community Safety response to most graffiti in public-facing parts of campus is to request that it be cleaned off by Facilities
We request Facilities expedite the process if the graffiti targets community members by name, or is particularly offensive (excessively vulgar or hate speech)
The recent increase in graffiti is routine for the start of a new academic year, but according to Director of Community Safety Gary Granger, “the prevalence of graffiti waxes and wanes in somewhat unpredictable cycles”.
Granger also spoke on how graffiti artists may sometimes underestimate how detrimental their messages can be. “The recent graffiti ‘Kill Kids’ that showed up on campus is one example of how something that may seem ironic or just absurdist to the people who put it up can be distressing and even debilitating to people who have experienced violence. Those of us who do work, like myself, have lived experiences that involved people being harmed or killed, and graffiti that–even ironically or in ‘jest’–exhorts violence, is quite problematic and can also lead to many people in the community feeling unsafe.”
Some argue to the contrary–that graffiti is a form of expression that should not be barred unless it actively discriminates against a person or persons or harms anyone. Regardless of the nature of the graffiti, facilities tend to remove it, as mentioned in the Community Safety report.
Additionally, another aspect of graffiti is its function in encouraging further spray-paint action. An already graffitied space incites the thought of graffiti in the minds of those who experience it, and can compel others to also take to the walls. In Reed’s case, the graffiti that began in the Northwest corner of campus has now also appeared around Eliot Hall and Vollum College Center. Though it is hard to say whether this was the work of the same individual(s), there is no estimate of when the graffiti may taper down.
Graffiti has historically been a part of Reed’s culture–especially considering the school’s emphasis on freedom of speech and expression. Some may even argue that it is part of institutional memory–a lot of the graffiti that people are writing are the same phrases that were written 20, 30, or even 50 years ago.
While this may all be true, taking into consideration the people who clean it off, the graffiti has recently raised the question of whether this paint-mannered freedom of expression is worth the additional work for already hard-working Facilities Services.