Managing Executive Editor
Since Jan. 1, Campus Safety has had eight reports of graffiti with four of those being bias-related, according to Campus Safety Director Amanda Warman. While this number seems high since students have been back to school since Jan. 15, administration is pointing to a higher frequency of reporting than an actual spike in the number of incidents. Warman said most of the incidents are homophobic or sexual in nature.
[singlepic id=741 w=320 h=240 float=right]
“It’s a community issue, just not one person,” Warman said. As far as procedure for Campus Safety, not much has changed; Campus Safety responds to the area where the graffiti was written and sends a report to Conduct. What has changed however, according to Warman, is awareness.
“I think people are more aware of reporting and it needs to be reported,” she emphasized.
Dispute Resolutions Coordinator Mark Schmidl-Gagne said the process of finding the person who perpetrated this bias-related graffiti is “highly problematic.” Usually the perpetrator is writing the graffiti when no one is looking, Schmidl-Gagne said. He said that he has loads of documents on graffiti, but it is difficult catching the perpetrator. Residential Life works with Campus Safety, and Campus Safety investigate handwriting, take photos of the graffiti, and try to look for certain trends. In addition, Campus Safety canvasses the area for witnesses because there needs to be good corroboration for a policy violation. Schmidl-Gagne said a report of the incident goes to the Office of Multiculturalism and Diversity, the Dean of Students, and the conduct system. So far, according to Schmidl-Gagne, there have been no convictions this year of anyone who has perpetrated bias-related graffiti.
Schmidl-Gagne pointed to Holloway Hall as having several problems with graffiti this year. “Yes, there’s been an increase with last fall. We had a lot in Holloway. I think the first years are making adjustments and the RAs are more sensitive to it.” Schmidl-Gagne also acknowledged that the campus is becoming more aware of graffiti and the need to report the graffiti when it is discovered on campus.
Last fall in Holloway, Resident Assistants reported anti-Semitic bias-related graffiti in the form of swastikas written on dorm room walls, and in Carle Hall someone had written “white pride” in a bathroom. As a result of the graffiti in Holloway, a group went in and held discussions with the residents of the particular hallway in which the graffiti was discovered. Dottie Morris, the chief officer of Multiculturalism and Diversity, held the facilitated discussion to talk to students about how they felt about the graffiti and the vandalism in their living area.
“I would love to have more students involved in having these facilitated discussion,” Morris said. Morris said there were 15 to 20 people in each group and everyone talked about their feelings. “Even though the graffiti wasn’t directed towards them, they were still affected by it. All of this was important for me to hear, because we need to approach this through the community. I wanted to make this a teachable moment,” Morris said. Morris said if the person who wrote the graffiti was there, she or he would hear the anger of his or her peers because people do not like feeling unsafe in their community.
“The students had a compassionate desire to know why the person did this,” Morris said. “What we want to do is not kick this person out of the community, but re-integrate them after the harm was done.”
Alex Davis, a sophomore, is an RA in Holloway in the particular hallway where the anti-Semitic graffiti was discovered. “The RAs on duty discovered it, and it was brought to my attention,” he said. “There was no proof it was one of my residents.” Davis said the graffiti showed a disrespect for facility, but he doesn’t believe there is bias on campus.
“It’s not about those feelings, it’s about how you choose to express those feelings in the community,” he said. Davis said he thought Morris’s program in Holloway, where all RAs and the floor had to attend, was a very positive experience for everyone. “Residents were able to express their concerns in a safe and professional way,” he said.
Erica Burke, a senior, and also an RA in Holloway, experience bias-related graffiti in her hallway recently, and it had a personal impact on her because the graffiti in her hallway was negative language against Catholics written on a flyer.
“I’m Catholic,” she said. “It was very hurtful. It’s hard to understand why someone would do that.” In addition, Burke said, “I was very upset. There’s so much more to me than my religion.” Burke said she followed procedures and called Campus Safety to report it, and she said ResLife does its best to make sure everyone feels safe in their community. Both Burke and Davis said this was the first year they have had to deal with bias-related graffiti, but the restorative justice program in Holloway had a positive impact on their residents.
Schmidl-Gagne spoke of Morris’s restorative justice method of dealing with bias-related graffiti because the method would involve talking to the student about what she or he did and to undo the harm in order to make it better, according to Schmidl-Gagne. Restorative justice also has a positive impact on the community.
“It can empower people who are negatively impacted; students are more vigilant and have more courage to confront who has done this,” he said. “I’m very proud of how KSC addresses offenders for these things.”
Schmidl-Gagne outlined the ramifications of a person who would be caught after having written bias-related graffiti. The student in question would be charged with vandalism, and they would have to go to a hearing board. The result of the hearing could mean suspension from the college or dismissal. Some of the considerations that Schmidl-Gagne has to think about, are as follows: is “the violation of vandalism? Previous history? Is the graffiti bias-related? Bias-related graffiti changes the nature and scope depending on what kind of graffiti it is,” he said.
“In a general sense, it deteriorates the sense of pride and sense of community on our campus,” Warman said. “People can be highly offended by it. I think it can make them question, ‘Is this really where I want to be?’” In addition, Warman also said that bias is prevalent everywhere, but bias-related graffiti can reveal the perpetrator’s ignorance because they may not know the true feelings these words have on their community.
“Graffiti creates a threatening atmosphere. The socio-political loading that word has a negative effect. It doesn’t feel good to live in a community where those sorts of things are written,” Morris said.
Since 2009, according to Warman, there has been a total of 49 incidents of graffiti, with 10 of those a year being bias-related; last year being the highest number of reporting.
“I’m suspect when I see numbers that say zero, it says people aren’t comfortable bringing it forward,” Warman said. As far as preventing bias-related graffiti on campus, both Warman, Schmidl-Gagne, and Morris all said being an active bystander is crucial to making sure these issues don’t continue to negatively impact the community, and starting conversation is another avenue to prevent these incidents from happening.
“We hope to establish safe moments where people can express themselves openly instead of doing it anonymously. With more conversation, it would reduce the need for anonymity to be the only outlet a person has,” Morris said. Morris said the person would be heard, and she would like to create an atmosphere where people don’t feel excluded.
“There’s over 500 people on this campus, but it can be a lonely place,” Morris added.
“We want to teach people to not engage in these activities. Peers should discourage peers. Students can be more proactive in their approach,” Schmidl-Gagne said. Schmidl-Gagne said that if perpetrators could sit down and talk to someone, it might click that their words are hurtful and they might feel remorse for what they have done.
“I think it’s primarily first years. It might have something to do with the stress of coming to college and experience things you didn’t know could be your reality,” Morris said. To counteract these sort of messages, Morris said writing positive messages on white boards and going to educational programs on campus are ways in which students can equip themselves with a few more tools for being able to actively engage in a community that does not write vandalize property with this type of graffiti.
“Engaging with peers is the key to shifting our environment,” Morris said.
Warman also emphasized the importance of being an active bystander. “Question when people are using hateful language,” she advised. Being more aware of it and being less desensitized to this behavior would help the community prevent these incidents, according to Schmidl-Gagne, and social media has had the effect of desensitizing people to these behaviors because things can be written anonymously and the person thinks no one will see it or confront them about it. Letting peers know that this is wrong behavior might be able to stop it from occurring again.
“We all share this community, and the actions of one affect the lives of everyone. We want people to take ownership of their community and reduce the tolerance for this behavior,” Warman said.
Whitney Cyr can be contacted at email@example.com.