Freshwomen weigh in on whether campus graffiti is crime or art

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May 4, 2009

Alexandra Pyke-Bagrash

Lucie Stern bathroom stalls are seemingly the most popular graffiti spots on campus, but there are other more colorful and discreet sightings on campus as well. Graffiti has crept out from the bathroom stalls and onto campus stop signs, under bridges over Leona Creek, and in the Greek amphitheater. Some think graffiti makes the campus look bad. Others look at the walls and stalls as blank canvases to host student expression.

“The thing about graffiti is that it’s usually gang-related, like in Huntington Beach, my hometown,” said freshwoman Olivia Matson-Stame.

“But at Mills, it’s obviously not. I love it. I get to see how Mills women over the years represent themselves and find their place in the male-dominated world of graffiti art.”

Leona Creek runs through a cement tunnel behind the Computer, Physical Science, and Mathematics (CPM) building.

Above it, just about every square foot of the tunnel is covered with colorful tags and giant illustrations, including a huge yin and yang symbol, an alien-like creature, and statements like “herbivore” and “Iraq all blood all the time.” Most of the other tags are vulgar comments and abstract forms of messy spray paint.

Getting under the bridge is no easy task since it involves jumping from the edge of the muddy, uneven ground and over the rushing creek to the flat surface under the bridge. Still someone managed to spray paint “I hope you had the time of your life” along the floor of the tunnel.

Some say it appears as though students over the years have been marking their territory on that tunnel.

“It does look like people have been going down there for years, painting over other people’s original tags. It’d be another thing if it was actually artistic,” said freshwoman Rosa Page.

“I don’t think it’s the students’ right to paint down there, but I don’t think Mills can stop them anyways.”

The administration has attempted to cover other graffiti on campus, such as the Stern bathroom stalls which the College paints over after every semester. But campus officials have left the tunnel untouched.

Some students, like Matson-Stame, see painting over campus graffiti as censorship.

“Why does Mills censor us by making sure to frequently paint over the bathroom stall graffiti of harmless, handwritten conversations?” she said.

On the other hand, freshwoman Zoe Marcus said, “I think it’s stupid. If you’re going to pay thousands of dollars to come to such a nice school, why would you want to mess it up by writing all over the place? Just get a piece of paper.”

Julia Gache, another freshwoman, suggested Mills create a space for campus graffiti. “We could just have one wall where everyone could tag freely,” she said.

Mills already has a similar policy in place with Senior Paint Night, where the graduating class is allowed to tag on designated areas of campus in their class color.

“Isn’t it just the same as graffiti?” said freshwoman Bonnie Horgos. “The senior colors are smeared all over campus every year. There’s hand prints everywhere. It just makes the school look tacky and poor.”

Freshwoman Jillian Harris admits that she has taken part in tagging on campus, including on bathroom stalls and a stucco wall behind the art building, which she said “is my way of expressing myself.”

And Harris said, “I think it’s justified that the school wants to cover up the graffiti in the bathroom stalls. When important people come to visit the campus, Mills isn’t going to like them to see those aspects of the school. Although, I think it’s great reading material for the times I don’t have a book.”

Graffiti in the Lucie Stern bathrooms include cartoon illustrations, political and social statements like, “f*** the gender police” and “Who’s winning the oppression olympics,” music lyrics, comments in foreign languages, and full conversations.

The comments, “How many ppl are going to be seriously upset when the L word is over?” incited others to respond “Jenny’s hott,” and “Ima miss my classy lesbo porn.”

After the attempt to cover the graffiti over winter break, the newly painted bathrooms stalls started filling up again with more comments, but now angered Mills women began to leave messages about their newly cleared canvas, such as “WTF – Why would u cover it all up?” Also, praises like “I come here just to read the walls…& pee” were left for the tagging women. Recently, people’s tag names, written in glue and glitter, have also been spotted on campus.

These creations are not permanent like other spray paint tags, but they do survive a couple months.

Another spot on campus with similar graffiti is along the Pine Top Trail, where Leona Creek passes through another cement tunnel, displaying bright colored messages. One of them says, “Happy B-day Aya,” in hot pink.

“Graffiti around campus is more hidden and less blatant than the tags in the [Lucie Stern] bathroom,” said freshwoman Amy Funahashi.

“It isn’t written across the front of buildings, so I really don’t care that it’s there. I think it’s cool when I do discover it though. It’s art.”


Freshwomen weigh in on whether campus graffiti is crime or art was published on May 4, 2009 in Features

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