“Bathroom graffiti” typically conjures images of hate and vulgarity. However, a visit sometimes paints a different picture. In the private space of women’s bathroom stalls all over campus, students are leaving their mark in an interesting way. Some of the graffiti fit the stereotypical explicit material, but many of them do not. There are countless examples of inspirational messages, personal stories and calls for camaraderie. These inscriptions range from a simple, “you’re beautiful” to a 14-line narrative by a victim of abuse — all of them anonymous.
These stalls serve as a safe haven for students seeking support, motivation or a private way to share their experiences with the public. Students use these walls much like the white boards left out during exam times and other events across campus for students to share their thoughts. Such bathroom bulletins show the desire for catharsis and solidarity. As one student writes, “This place inspires me. ♥ ILY all.”
Undeniably, any defacing of public property without permission is vandalism and goes against university policy. The graffiti was covered this semester, eliciting a response from the walls: “I’m sad the walls got painted over.” One student chose to express their dismay in verse form:
Don’t erase our graffiti
What you deem vandalism
We see as a community art project
It is a weed
Take it away and it will only grow back
Let it be and see its potential to change things
This poetic inscription has since received two supporters; with arrows pointing towards it, the words “truth” and “preach” can be seen in two distinct handwritings. Communication between participants like this is not uncommon and often contains positive messages. With the demand for mental health support services outweighing the supply, such a simple and low-cost means of peer support can only be a good idea. After all, it seems that a few minutes in these spaces whether as readers or writers is a refuge for many students.
This raises many questions regarding the value graffiti has for the campus community and whether their preservation is a worthy cause. Is it possible to preserve them before they’re covered with paint, allowing new messages to emerge? Should the content be displayed more publicly? The fact is, unless there are advocates for preservation and protection, the messages will remain ephemeral.
Graffiti is a growing art form whose significance is subject to disputes of cleansing versus conservation. For students, the graffiti serves a purpose. Either considered a blot on the landscape or a tool to establish dialogue, the graffiti on campus serves as a means of enforcing community and self-expression. Regardless of whether these issues are acknowledged, like weeds, the writings will continue to reemerge and impact the lives of its frequent readers.
— Rae Vanille, fourth-year linguistics student