Graffiti, vandalism take chalking messages to new level
As LaShawn Springer ’08, a Resident Advisor in Clark Hall, was moving into her room before freshman orientation this year, she noticed racial slurs etched into the metal of the elevator.
She says she was not taken aback.
“I'm not surprised because these are reoccurring issues at Wesleyan,” Springer said. “There is graffiti targeted towards people of color, queer students, transgendered students and women in just about every academic building I have been in, whether it's in the elevator or on the stall of the bathroom.”
Indeed, students were informed by e-mail last Wednesday of another incidence of racist graffiti. Dean of Students Maria Cruz-Saco explained that last Monday, Public Safety had “observed racist graffiti in one of the inside doors of the PAC elevator.”
Students also received e-mails regarding vandalism on campus. The most recent vandalism refers to the spray-painted political messages that have been found near the Campus Center, on William Street, around LoRise and various other locations on campus.
According to Dean of Diversity Daniel Teraguchi, the spray-painted “vandalism” and the “racist graffiti” are two different issues. He feels that the issue of racist graffiti has more to do with the sentiments expressed in the etchings, as opposed to simply damaging property.
Nonetheless, the dean's comments show the ambiguity involved in labeling such acts.
“There is some confusion over the meaning of the spray-painted messages, though,” Teraguchi said. “The political messages could be interpreted as offensive to some.”
According to Dean of Student Services Mike Whaley, however, ambiguity of the spray-painted messages did not merit as specific a label as “racist graffiti.”
“I am unsure about the intent of the spray painting and so have characterized it as vandalism,” Whaley said. “It seems clear that some of it is a political statement, but it seems different than the graffiti incidents that we've reported to the campus community.”
Students have reacted to the spray-painted messages with varying degrees of confusion.
“I think it's really horrible and not something that the school stands for,” said Peter Hull ’10.
Others, while expressing a general indifference to the messages they have been treading on, did note the severity of spray-painting versus more common mediums.
“I don't think I thought about it that much,” said Joanna Kenty ’08. “It's definitely a big response as opposed to chalking, though; I definitely think it'll make a lot more people angry.”
Since finding the people responsible for the racist graffiti is unlikely, many administrators want to approach the issue as a community.
“I believe that we must each commit ourselves to examining, discussing and educating ourselves about the wide array of diverse people who comprise this amazing community,” Whaley said. “We must challenge ourselves and each other to become more competent with these issues and more compassionate with each other.”
While removal of some of the spray-painted messages began yesterday, these acts have the potential to leave a deeper mark.
“There are monetary costs in terms of removing graffiti and repairing vandalism which are not insignificant, but I think that the cost to our collective psyche is much higher and harder to repair,” Whaley said.
One major concern is that the racist graffiti makes it harder for students to find safe spaces and feel safe in general.
“I think that there's an importance of having safe spaces: physically, emotionally and spiritually-based,” Teraguchi said. “No matter where you go, there are places where you feel uncomfortable, but you still need a comfortable place.”
Student organizations are also confronting the issue. Wesleyan Diversity Education Facilitation Program (WesDEF) is a program that runs Diversity Workshops for first-year resident halls. Springer, who is a member of WesDEF, says that one of the program's goals for this year is to create programs for the entire campus that promote diversity and awareness of hate crimes.
“Its important that we remember these conversations should be going on and that we don't have to wait for incidents like graffiti in the elevator to talk about these issues,” Springer said. “Everyone holds a stake in these conversations.”
The University is taking additional steps, including a campaign to rid bathrooms of racist graffiti, soon to be launched. Both students and staff will be encouraged to report the graffiti, which will then be removed.
Teraguchi encourages students to participate in this and other movements to increase tolerance and diversity on campus.
“If you witness inequities, you should take action,” he said. “If there is racist graffiti and no one does anything about it, what does that say about our community? How do we communicate our values?”