(Originally posted on The Chronicle Website http://chronicle.durhamcollege.ca/?p=3336 )
Graffiti means a lot of different things to different people. It can mean art, it can mean vandalism, and it can mean rebellion or just pointless words with no meaning.
But for Durham College and the first floor L-wing women’s washroom it means inspirational words.
Words such as, “The world won’t get any better if all you do is watch,” accompanied by a TV that says, “Change your life not the channel.” Or something more personal such as “I hate my life,” in blue pen and in black sharpie marker someone else’s’ writing, “Most things will be okay eventually, but not everything will be. Sometimes you’ll put up a good fight and loose sometimes you’ll hold on really hard and realize there is no choice but to let go. Acceptance is a small, quiet room – Cheryl Strayed. Ps. (sic)I love you dear human. Remember your life is precious.”
Quotes and responses to strangers can touch people who aren’t involved in the conversation directly.
“It said ‘I hate my life’ and then someone wrote ‘Oh you’re precious I don’t even know you but basically I still love you’ and that’s really sweet ‘cause even complete strangers need that acceptance and love,” said Amy Wamboldt, a Broadcasting for Contemporary Media student at Durham College.
But not everyone agrees with graffiti, even if it is inspirational and loving.
“I understand that there may be some people that do feel they are helping someone but all it is, is causing a mess and causing our cleaners extra time to clean that up,” said Suzanne Chasse, manager of facilities services for Durham College and UOIT, adding with a laugh, “Leave my walls alone.”
Durham College has had a history of gang and inappropriate abusive tagging and graffiti in the past but it has diminished since the cleaners have been cleaning it off the walls every day. There are three main parts of the school that receive graffiti: the D-Wing washroom, the library and the L-Wing women’s washroom.
The L-Wing women’s washroom is the only place at Durham College where inspirational graffiti lies. Why in a washroom? Well, there could be many reasons.
“It’s anonymous and no one will really know, and maybe a lot of people go to the bathroom,” said Rebecca Pierce, a Biomedical Engineering and Technology student at Durham College.
Greg Murphy, dean of Media Art and Design thinks differently.
“It’s a place where graffiti is likely to stay up. It’s been around for a long time. You used to see it back when there were telephone booths everywhere. And you would go into a restaurant or bar and there would be a telephone on the wall and you would see hundreds of messages like that, hundreds of them,” said Murphy. “So it’s really anywhere people stop, they pause, in the bathroom or wherever and there’s no one looking extensively and they just write their thoughts on it.”
Folklorist Alan Dundes has a more graphic and different approach to why people write in the bathroom. In Dundes’ 1965 study “Here I Sit – A Study of American Latrinalia” he mentions Ernest Jones’s view on latrinalia – bathroom graffiti that it is a “derived and sublimated form of what he terms a primitive spearing impulse.” This impulse, according to Jones, is also like “the desire that infants allegedly have to manipulate their feces…People who carve or write their names are leaving a memento of themselves which may injure and spoil something beautiful.”
While Durham College isn’t the first place for graffiti to happen, it won’t be the last either. Graffiti has been around as early as the 18th century when “Hurlo Thrumbo” wrote his book The Merry Thought: Or, The Glass Window and the Bog-House, published in 1731. In his book “Hurlo Thrumbo” wrote: “Well sung of Yore, a Bard of Wit/That some folks read, but all Folks shit/But now the Case is alter’d quite/Since all who come to the Boghouse write.” (A boghouse being a public washroom.)
This could be why Murphy wasn’t surprised or offended by inspirational graffiti being in the school.
“I think it’s just human nature. It’s going to be there as long as it’s not abusive I don’t mind it at all. I’ve seen it all my life,” said Murphy.