Point-Counterpoint: The California Review Debates the Graffiti Hall Shutdown

Point: Is Graffiti Hall Vandalism or Free Expression?

by Alexander Kreedman, Alumni Contributor

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Photo: Alexander Kreedman

The University of California, San Diego administration has reached new lows just days before the start of the 2013-2014 academic year.  Its latest fumble arises from the enforcement of its graffiti policy in a hallway at the Mandeville Auditorium Hall—which also houses two official university art galleries—nicknamed the Graffiti Hall.

Since the 1980s, the Graffiti Hall has been a place where counterculture is celebrated by the “tagging” of its walls as part of free artistic and creative expression. When UCSD was founded in the 1960s, the first classes at UCSD came during the Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam War Protests. When designing the university, the UC Regents designed the campus without a central meeting point, in order to minimize the effect of the student protests that were disrupting our sister campuses at UC Berkeley and UC Los Angeles.

Nonetheless, our administration has failed on multiple occasions to whitewash the legacy of unruly students. The Los Angeles Times reported in 1985 that a student group that infuriated the administration after it painted 300 bright red paisley designs across the campus in hopes of brightening up the cold cement of the campus. In more recent years, the Skeet Water Gun Squirtle at Warren Lecture Hall appeared to show the administration the futility of its quest to stamp out dissent. However, the campus police only saw imperfection and chaos versus the perception of order and control. Even though there was merit in the students wanting to express their first amendment rights and having a sense of belonging on campus, the administration only saw damage to campus property.

Over the years, unique aspects of the campus have slowly faded from the collective memory of the student body, resulting in negative impact on student life and the unfortunate nickname “UC Socially Dead.” The administration has made half-hearted attempts to permit some student art on the campus, such as the joint project by University Center and Sustainability Resource Center, which allowed Visual Arts students the chance to paint old trashcans. Five talented artists were selected to create and paint eco-friendly designs in the summer of 2011. However, as traditional trashcans break, they are replaced with newer, automated trashcans covered in campus ads intended to raise more money for cash-strapped administrators rather than adding more artistic diversity to the campus with the decorated receptacles.

The Graffiti Hall stood above in Triton culture as an area in continual flux, adapting with its changing student body as the manifestation of a continuous revolution of those who stood before and will come after. Graffiti Hall at Mandeville was seen by many as the last unique stronghold for student creativity in a sea of grey concrete and an increasingly authoritarian administration.

In early September, the administration added enhanced security measures to Mandeville Hall, including seven cameras, and painted over the Graffiti Hall, with the new white walls hiding the history and legacy below. According to UC San Diego police reports, the damage to the stairwell was estimated at over $8000 during the refurbishment. The money used to paint over an area that  used to promote free expression could have gone to services affected by budget cuts in recent years. This is not the first time that the administration has repainted the area; UCSD administrators covered up the graffiti during the 2005 remodeling of Mandeville and the Old Student Center. Although, this is the first time security cameras have been added. Suddenly, the threat of police monitoring and action has become a reality.

Advocates of crackdown argue that the administration should protect the students from harm and that areas such as Graffiti Hall breed other activities, such as recreational drug use and public indecency. The rationalization used by multiple administrations revolves around security concerns and public safety issues. This has resulted in ballooning police and security costs with increased bureaucracy every year by UCSD administration. With the recent revelations of Edward Snowen and the NSA PRISM surveillance program, the continued limitations to personal freedoms and increases in police monitoring show how close we are moving towards a 1984 future without self-determination. For a campus which prided itself on being an environment that promotes diversity and the personal freedoms for its students, professors, and the La Jolla community; it is becoming the corrupt and power hungry system it had originally condemned.

Meanwhile, opponents to the administration’s efforts have already established a Facebook group that has brought together more than 500 students and alumni to remember a distinctive piece of their UC San Diego history so that the administration cannot again attempt historical revisionism in promoting its view of the ideal campus. The group is brainstorming ideas to bring back the Graffiti Hall. Some students are moving towards civil disobedience with links for DIY Anti-Surveillance Spray being presented to deal with the security cameras. Some students argue the Graffiti Hall was more than an exact location, but a place for freedom of expression, and have been searching the campus for other locations to claim. All have been expressing remorse at the closure of a strong center of individualism on a dystopian campus.

Although the Graffiti Hall may have been started by some bored student tagging a blank wall for kicks and giggles or as a project by the Visual Arts Graduate Students, over the years it has evolved into a multicultural artistic avenue for UC San Diego students to look into themselves and seek out original and creative thoughts in a non-threatening environment. It is part of the learning process on how to balance logical and creative judgment with action. The Graffiti Hall is a unique part of UCSD culture, with it being mentioned on the Wikipedia page for UCSD and having a foursquare check-in location. Even with promises by the administration of more personal freedoms for the new students at the beginning of every school year, the students become disfranchised by UC San Diego’s continued disregard and limitation of spaces for students to have their liberty and autonomy preserved. The administration should not be disfranchising their students and alumni, who donate and give back to an Alma mater that does not seem to reciprocate that warmth. Some actions are not about destruction and vandalism, but tools for the freedom of expression.

If you feel passionately about Graffiti Hall, write a message to Chancellor Khosla urging his office to act and overrule the Campus Police’s decision to terminate this avenue of artistic expression.

Counter-point: “It’s Your Own Fault!”

by Sam Bartleman, Alumni Contributor  

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Graphic: Sam Bartleman

I was beyond disappointed when I heard that the infamous UCSD Graffiti Hall in Mandeville has been closed and cameras installed. However, I completely understand why it was done.

As a graffiti aficionado myself, I spent much time stenciling and spraying at graffiti hall, and I would make a point to walk through a few times a week to see how others had modified and reacted to my work. However, over the past year I noticed more and more graffiti spilling out into the rocky exterior of Mandeville.

This breaks the unwritten rule of graffiti hall – that the graffiti stays in the hall. The stuff that was sprayed outside wasn’t even clever – at one point I saw swastikas, dick drawings, and “/r/spacedicks,” a reference to a reddit forum that is meant to contain the most offensive material on the internet. Awesome work, guys.

Let us remember that graffiti hall is a privilege, and a pretty great one at that. But, when the administration has to spend thousands sandblasting dick drawings off their buildings twice a month, I can understand their frustration.

So why do they not just “officially” sanction graffiti hall as a place to legally spray paint? Well, that is truly for the administration to decide, but a lot of problems do immediately come to mind. With a legally sanctioned area, the university becomes responsible for whatever students paint in there. This is comparable to The Koala, whose publication is supported by the university, but whose content is not — the Koala already causes a headache for the administration, so I understand why would they would hesitate to be responsible for Graffiti Hall, another potentially controversial free speech outlet.

Another option is to just install cameras outside the hall and arrest students for doing graffiti outside, but not inside, without “officially” sanctioning graffiti inside the hall itself. Between police and students, this quickly becomes complicated. Asking police to just “look the other way” when a student is violating the law is incredibly messy for both student and officer. Say an officer is dispatched to arrest a student who is spraying outside, but they also find a student inside – both would have to be arrested. And, from a broader point of view, police should not have to be dispatched to explain the nuances of Graffiti Hall. It has been clear for over thirty years where graffiti is and is not allowed in Mandeville.

The final option is to just post signs saying where graffiti is and is not legal. This is a poor suggestion for a few reasons, the first being that signs outlawing graffiti have been up for years in the east Mandeville Hall, which has always been covered in graffiti and has been repainted time and time again. The second reason echoes the first – if students want to spray paint a wall illegally, a sign is probably not going to stop them. Ignorance of where paint is allowed is not the problem here, it is students with malicious intent. I guarantee that anyone who spray painted the outside of Mandeville was not confused — they knew what they were doing was wrong.

Students will probably respond to the closure by pouting, playing the victim card, and spray painting elsewhere illegally. Instead, students should try to earn back the privilege of a graffiti hall by clearly presenting their demands to the administration through non-destructive means and by making it obvious that the Mandeville graffiti area can exist without negative externalities.

2 comments

  1. This is so sad.

  2. Funny I never used spraypaint there. Sharpies and oil paints is what I remember

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