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Sunday, Dec 4, 2022

Vandalism Raises Controversy On Campus

As the latest addition to the wave of graffiti found across campus, more spray-painted words, stenciled images, and stickers were found on the Ross complex, Atwater Dining Hall, Bicentennial Hall, McCullough Student Center and Axinn early last week. The probing messages behind the graffiti work and the ways in which they have been expressed have received various reactions from students and faculty alike.

According to Facilities Management Supervisor Wayne Hall, instances of graffiti or vandalism have occurred every weekend this term. This latest work of graffiti embodied two recurrent themes from previous graffiti work found on campus.

“We’ve noticed two issues taken up with the spray-painting,” said Hall. “Some of the graffiti has been in support of the Black Lives Matter movement involving the police in the whole country. The other issue is more central to Middlebury regarding security cameras.”

Early in the morning of Monday April 27, students found the words “No Cameras” spray-painted on the ground in bold letters in front of Atwater Dining Hall. “Who Watches the Watchmen?” and “Cut the Cord!” were spray-painted on the walls, accompanied by a stenciled rat and free-hand drawings of security cameras.

BiHall sported similar messages regarding the surveillance of students. Hall also noted that on the morning of Tuesday April 28, stickers were applied to the clock in front of McCullough, saying, “F*** Cameras.” Touching on another recurrent message, a “Black Lives Matter” quote was reported on the walls of Axinn. These images and phrases are direct replicas from previous instances of graffiti, but applied to different buildings.

Hall said that the news of most recent round of graffiti writing reached his office by 8:30 a.m. on Monday morning, and facilities staff was out working by 10 a.m. The process to clean the walls of buildings of spray-paint is extensive, requiring multiple solvents and other tools to first remove the graffiti and then re-paint when necessary.

“Two facility guys were working all of [Monday] until four o’clock,” said Hall on Tuesday. “They have also been working on it this morning, and I’m not even sure if they’re done with it yet.”

Reactions to the graffiti have been diverse, as students have expressed both positive and negative responses, sparking many discussions and criticisms. However, social media boasted an overwhelming denunciation of what has been called a “defacing of college property” and “blatant vandalism” as a direct attack against college community.

One anonymous post on the popular social media mobile app Yik-Yak commented, “There are opportunities to express your opinions without defacing the campus and making facilities’ lives harder.”

Another one offered, “The facilities staff who clean the graffiti have to use incredibly nasty, toxic cleansers. You put the health of others in danger to make a statement that you could’ve made in the student forum.”

Hall noted that many students witnessing the cleanup process offered support or their apologies. “Students have come up to us and have said, ‘Sorry this is a waste of time,’ or, ‘Sorry you have to be doing this,’” he said.

However, Jackie Park ’15 noted that this emphasis on the importance of community appears and dissipates seemingly when convenient for the student body.

“Where was the support when students were holding meetings with faculty and the administration, signing petitions, creating support groups, bringing in speakers and performers to ‘effectively’ tackle these issues [of surveillance, oppression and injustice],” said Park. “It is quite scary to hear and see over and over again that people are more angry over a wall than over people’s lives.”

Other students have also shown support and have agreed that the matters presented by the graffiti represent very real issues and offer opportunities for valuable discussion.

One of the themes perpetuated by the graffiti work was the topic surrounding the potential use of security cameras on campus, an issue that has been taken up by Community Council. Student Co-Chair of Community Council Ben Bogin ’15 said although the original reasoning behind implementing security cameras was based on recent instances of theft, conservations broadened out to include graffiti and other vandalism.

“More broadly, I think this all came from the place of, ‘How can we make sure that students feel safe here?’” said Bogin. “Some feel safer with surveillance cameras, others feel threatened.”

One post on Yik Yak spoke in favor of cameras, “Before I didn’t care, but because someone has been repeatedly vandalizing buildings, now I really want [Middlebury] to put cameras up.”

At the Community Council forum to continue this discussion, many cited the pragmatic use of cameras to deter vandalism of this kind from repeating itself. Ultimately, however, the Community Council vote ended with six votes in favor of cameras, nine votes against, and two votes abstaining.

Hall noted that students have other options on campus to express themselves and vocalize their opinions in artistic form other than continuously spraying graffiti throughout the campus. He cited the chalkboards in McCullough or the slateboards in BiHall as alternative means.

“I think freedom of expression is great, but to do it properly is one thing, and to do it improperly in a way that hurts other people is another thing,” said Hall. “We would rather be spending our time on making the campus look nice than cleaning up senseless damage.”

As of now, the person or persons behind these different acts of graffiti are still anonymous, and there have been no publicized measures of preventative action to block any future graffiti.