The ever-growing problem of campus graffiti

Campus graffiti almost has viral characteristics on the UC Santa Cruz campus. It spreads rapidly and uncontrollably, dwelling on bathroom walls, scratched into the toilet seats and windows, written on the base of street lamps and on the cement walking paths on campus.

Any empty space serves as a potential victim.

Graffiti seen on campus comes in multiple forms. Some of it is political, such as the words “Free Alette” which is reminiscent of a protest to a student’s arrest in 2006.

However, some does not refer to anything obvious, such as the words “celery” which has been tagged on sidewalks and stair rails, without any clues as to its meaning or intent.

Jim Durning has been the paint and signage supervisor at the Physical Plant, responsible for responding to all graffiti on campus with the exception of the residence halls for the past 19 years.

He says that the amount of graffiti on campus has increased dramatically over the last six years. Durning explained that graffiti is hard to combat because it occurs faster than his employees can remove.

“Porter probably [has] 50 coats of paint on it,” said Durning. “My guys have gone in, cleaned it, left wet paint signs up, and next day come in, trashed again. Right next to the wet paint signs.”

A common argument used to justify graffiti justifies its presence as being art. Fourth-year art major Ben Desai of Kresge College views some graffiti as art, but not all.

“I like the more artistic grafitti,” said Desai. “But I definitely don’t like just tagging, especially the kind that is just for putting down their name.”

However, to those who have to clean it up, graffiti is considered vandalism and a unnecessary expense. According to Durning, graffiti clean up cost the Physical Plant almost $17,000 last year.

Ian Mitchell, a senior maintenance worker at Kresge College, has zero tolerance for graffiti because it is vandalism on public property, even if it is artistic.

“You can’t just let one person spray one thing up there because its cutesy, because then everyone will go up there and put up things and the walls will just look like shit,” Mitchell said sternly. “So we have to clean it off as fast as possible.”

The consequences for vandalism are severe. University officials are instructed to call campus police rather than contacting housing or judicial affairs.

Durning provides an example of what happened to a person who got caught tagging by one of his workers at Kresge. They later found stencils in his car.

“They got him, he admitted to it, and I think the D.A. is prosecuting him right now,” Durning said. “His excuse was that he got bored.”

Tagging, in the in the past, has taken on an ugly tone in the form of racial slurs and also anti-Semitic symbols such as swastikas. Cases such as this, according to Durning, are infrequent, but require a police investigation and can be prosecuted as hate crimes.

Durning explains campus graffiti as being anamorphous and it changes with the student body. “I can tell when someone graduates, he says, “because the tag goes away.”