To the everyday Aggie, vandalism on campus is an all-too-familiar sight. Whether it is tagging in bathrooms or painting on hallway walls, the defacement of collegiate property for comedic relief or civil discontent is often to be expected. Following the wake of the November protests, a flurry of politically oriented art cropped up in virtually every major hall on campus. This year, however, a new location has seen a dramatic increase in defacement: Shields Library.
On average, 8,000 to 10,000 people use the library every day. Misconduct within the scholarly walls ranges from immature to overtly sexual, but crime is mostly limited to electronic device theft.
The past two quarters, however, have seen the highest rates of tagging and other forms of defacement in the past five years. This year has also had the most extreme cases of such acts that have since cost the school thousands of dollars in damages.
Since January, there have been dozens of reported cases of graffiti on both the interior and exterior walls of the facility. In most instances, the writing is small and localized to easily targeted objects such as bathroom placards and book carts.
While many are attempts at sarcasm either aimed at the library or at fellow students, there are numerous examples of rhetoric and symbolism that many would find deeply offensive. According to incident reports from library staff, signs depicting images of women often fall prey to misogynistic doodling, and notes left behind for others to find can demonstrate a deep intolerance of race and sexual orientation.
Recently, artwork relating to the Occupy movement has been seen most frequently. The highly detailed nature of the pieces often make them the most difficult, and subsequently expensive, to remove. A life-sized blue stenciling of UC Davis police officer Lt. John Pike on the outside of the library had to be power-washed away and has since caused permanent damage to the stucco. Paintings found in the restrooms require heavy solvents to remove, which forces the facilities to be shut down for hours at a time. Popular messages include “Destroy what enslaves you — capitalism!” and “Anti-capitalista!” as well as “RSC kills babies.”
Amy Kautzman, the Associate University Librarian for the Humanities and Social Sciences and Head of Access Services at Shields, is concerned with the new trend.
“It doesn’t have the positive effect that people want,” she said. “We understand that the students want to put up their messages. But when they put them up in such a way that it damages the building, you end up harming not the powers that be, but taking money away from the students who are already protesting that they are having money being taken away from their education.”
Kautzman’s frustration does not lie with the Occupy movement’s sentiments, but rather the immediate damage to the building.
“It’s not against the politics — that’s not the issue. There’s many options of doing things, and we’re open for all sorts of discussions. But we have to have discussion on political art that doesn’t harm the building,” she said.
The second contention lies with monetary ramifications. The money required to fix the damages does not come from library funds directly.
“The budget comes from state general funds set aside for building maintenance and repair,” said Senior Public Information Representative Andy Fell in an e-mail regarding the budget for such damages.
Currently there is not a definitive figure of how much has been spent this year compared to the past, but this information is reportedly being gathered.
“Facilities Management is in the process of collecting data so that it can be included in the maintenance budget for next year,” Fell said.
Even though the budget for building repair is not directly correlated to the library, Kautzman feels that the two are inherently linked.
“I would like to think that if we didn’t have to spend as much for maintaining the buildings, that could be money toward the collections,” she said. “It takes away from the greater budget, and the greater budget could trickle down to us.”
Kautzman is also worried about the potential long-term damages from library mistreatment.
“I think it’s the broken-window effect. If someone starts writing on the wall of the bathroom, then somebody else does, and it causes degradation of the whole atmosphere. It’s not productive, intellectual, and that’s what we pride ourselves on being — a place for intellect.”
On Feb. 27, dried fecal matter was discovered on a pillar on the fourth floor.
Taylor Burt, a senior genetics major, agrees with Kautzman.
“It definitely takes away from the atmosphere. It’s not unexpected; it just makes the whole campus look kind of trashy,” she said about the second floor of Shields, which is home to some of the more notorious instances of graffiti. “We’re supposed to be adults, and it doesn’t seem like something adults should do.”
In the end, it is up to the compassion of every Davis student to protect the beauty and integrity of our campus, Kautzman said.
ADAM KHAN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.