A line between expression, destruction

By CiaraShook

The Office of Campus Environment teamed with Columbia’s Student Government Association to launch a campaign to stamp out vandalism on campus.

The campaign intends to bring the amount of money the college spends each year on vandalism repairs to students’ attention.

According to Alicia Berg, vice president of Campus Environment, Columbia spent more than $645,000 repairing vandalism damage during the 2008-2009 academic year, which she said was not an unusual amount for repairs. The Student Government Association is taking a peer-to-peer approach to inform students their tuition dollars are used to pay for damage repairs.

The campaign was started as a response to Berg’s observation of damages to Columbia’s property.

The Office of Campus Environment and the SGA recognize that graffiti, the unauthorized writing or drawing on a public surface, has involved into an art form. However, both agree the markings seen throughout campus better exemplify destruction of property rather than expression of art.

“There are a lot of other places you could go to express yourself and you don’t need to do it on public property,” said Brittany Spearman, freshman arts, entertainment and music management major.

Jessica Valerio, president of the SGA, said most vandalism is found in buildings with the most foot traffic, such as the 33 E. Congress Parkway Building; Wabash Campus Building, 623 S. Wabash Ave.; and the Alexandroff Campus Center, 600 S. Michigan Ave. Areas such as bathrooms, stairwells and elevators are more subjected to vandalism than areas easily seen.

Berg said most of these repairs consisted of new paint or glass replacement.

Valerio said because Columbia is a repairs comes from tuition dollars students pay each year.

Berg said Campus Environment asked SGA to spread the word because students would respond better to this initiative if it came from their peers.

“It’s been a really good thing [to work with SGA],” Berg said. “It’s one thing when administration says, ‘Please don’t do vandalism, it costs money.’ And it’s another thing  when students are saying, ‘Please don’t do vandalism, it’s costing us, as students, a lot of our money and we don’t want it spent on things like that.’ That’s a much more effective approach, so that’s why I’m so thrilled.”

The initial phase of the campaign will feature signage throughout campus to bring vandalism at Columbia to students’ attention.

“What we’re trying to do is break down that sum [of $645,000] and relate it to things within students’ context,” Valerio said. “Scholarships, months of apartment rent and two large pizzas for every student at Columbia could be bought with that amount. We were shocked about these

facts and figures. Hopefully they’ll be shocked.”

Valerio said SGA enlisted the help of J. Brad Sturm, junior graphic design major, to design signs that display facts geared toward the different departments on campus, such as how many rolls of film students in the Film and Video Department could buy or how many yards of fabric fashion students could purchase with the money spent on repairs.

Donyiel Crocker, assistant to the associate vice president of facilities and construction, said after researching vandalism prevention on college campuses, she found peer-to-peer campaigning has proven most successful.

“At Campus Environment, we are continuing to find preventative efforts for vandalism,” Crocker said. “It really does start and end with the students. It’s something if we can reach people who are actually doing this and help them understand the cost and help them understand there is a line between vandalism and art.”

Though Campus Environment has not decided how the money saved from vandalism repairs will be allocated, Crocker said it would be best used for students’ benefit.

“We see this as money that should be in the students’ hands,” Crocker said. “The money is coming out of the students’ pockets and we want to put it back there.”

Valerio said SGA and Campus Environment wants students to express themselves, but not on campus property. The Student Government Association is considering an idea that emphasizes this at Manifest, which Valerio said includes freestanding canvases and media to show students’ graffiti as a way of channeling creativity.

“We want to create an outlet for students who are using graffiti as art,” Valerio said. “Maybe we’ll come up with some really beautiful piece of artwork. We want to create an outlet for artists to come out and express themselves through graffiti, and we want to make it known that this is the appropriate way to do it. Using it as vandalism is not appropriate and as peers we’re not going to tolerate it.”