Vandalism Is Not Okay...Unless You’re Quoting

Amherst College is a community with a rich history in the arts, literature, economics and many other fields. We are a liberal arts college with the features of a smoothly-run world, with our law enforcement protecting the Mead Art Museum and patrolling the campus. There is usually a clear line between creativity and breaking the law because of this … unless it’s vandalism.

In the most recent issue of Amherst Magazine, “Love Letters on the Bathroom Wall”, an article by Eric Goldscheider, romanticizes the idea of vandalism as long as it is in the form of literature. The love letters of European writers Rainer Maria Rilke and Lou Andreas-Salomé are permanently marked on the bathroom walls in the Frost Library above the B-Level. The initial reaction of the Frost librarians, upon seeing the black-and-white words and images, was to remove them by painting over them, but ultimately, the library staff decided against it, saying they admired the “creativity and resourcefulness” involved.

The idea is not exactly new at Amherst College. For years, quotes from James Joyce’s Ulysses and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books have been on the bathroom walls of Johnson Chapel and Chapin Hall, respectively. Vandalism, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is the “willful and malicious destruction or defacement of public or private property,” and though the peaceful words of literary authors do not qualify as “malicious,” where is the justification behind letting quotes run free while original words and images are overlooked and painted on? Not all vandalism is profane language or obscene pictures, and if we are to justify the path of letting only one type of vandalism free and not another, we must take a moment to re-think. All quotes started off as original before gaining exposure. By embracing the older works, are we really inspiring innovative thought in the younger generations or making them believe that to be great you must write like these writers, to be above the laws of public defacement your style must be like this, etc.?

Professor Rogowski of the Amherst College German department described the bathroom quotes as “an homage to a life of the mind” not solely based upon the content but also the “meticulous planning” that went into penning them on said walls. Most thoughtful vandalism, poetry about innocence lost in a changing world or images of a life desired in the future, is planned and a reflection of life. The only difference between that and our bathroom art is the recognition of a name. If we are striving to inspire mind, to invoke innovation, to encourage empowerment, we must not be selective; we must keep all vandalism or none at all.