The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Hateful vandalism in Grate prompts paint-over, reflection

The stairwell to the basement of Doty, known by most students as the grate, has been used as a canvas for graffiti, drawings, and messages for many years. Over winter break, unknown individuals sprayed and stenciled several hateful messages on the grate, prompting Facilities to paint over the offending images and the rest of the graffiti.

Though the walls are now clean and white, Macalester intends to continue to allow students to use the space as they have before. To that end, Student Life employees will hold several open forums to discuss how to move forward and give students a chance to respond to these acts of hate.

According to the Office of Student Life, the first images – a stenciled swastika and a spray-painted “f**k all cops” – appeared on Jan. 12. Two days later, after these had been painted over, an employee found a human figure drawn in marker with the words “go away f*g” written across the front. The final image was a penis, drawn on Jan. 22.

Though none of the vandals have been identified, a residence hall director came across a group of kids who seemed to be of high school age using spray paint in the grate last Friday night, Jan. 27. Upon being spotted, the kids fled.

Dean of Students Jim Hoppe joins most in thinking that the vandals are not Macalester students, given that the images were drawn during winter break. Judging by the styles and materials used, Hoppe also speculated that different vandals might have made them.

The grate has been painted over by Facilities every few years when it becomes overcrowded, Hoppe said, but it is unusual for it to be painted over in response to vandalism or hate speech. Though Hoppe was discouraged by the vandalism, he said that the grate would remain a space for student expression.

“The plan is not to change the purpose of the grate,” Hoppe said. “It’s meant to be used.”

The first planned open forum was scheduled to be held from noon to 1 p.m. on Thursday – after press time – in the fourth floor Old Main Lounge. The next forum will be held from 7 to 8 p.m. on Monday in the Doty formal lounge. Chris MacDonald-Dennis, Dean of Multicultural Life, has been involved in planning these forums. He agreed that it was unlikely that the acts were committed by Macalester students and remarked that, in general, Macalester students seem to “get multiculturalism on a deep level.” Nevertheless, he said the forum discussion would be valuable for discussing general mistakes in behavior.

“No matter how committed we are to multiculturalism, we’re gonna step in it eventually,” he said.

MacDonald-Dennis also said the forums give students a chance to respond to, heal from, and learn from the incidents. He added that leaving the slurs intact is not needed to respond to them fully.

“I think we need to name what happened, and also paint over it,” MacDonald-Dennis said. “I don’t want to see it but I do want to know it happened.”

In his previous position in Multicultural Life at Bryn Mawr College, MacDonald-Dennis also dealt with insensitive behavior, such as “ghetto” themed parties. His experience leads him to believe that speaking honestly with the offenders can usually make a difference.

“I’ve talked to enough students that I think they don’t realize the repercussions,” he said.
“The people who do it are the people with the most privilege, usually.”

MacDonald-Dennis said one of the key strategies is to let people know that their words and actions have a real impact on people.

“You’re also really hurting people, is that really what you want to do?” He would often ask this question in his time at Bryn Mawr. “When you talk to people they usually get it.”

The motivation for many of these incidents on campuses is an attempt to be “edgy” or transgressive, but “there are more productive ways to be edgy,” he said. “We need to learn ways to challenge people that strengthen a community rather than divide it.”

Students who have used the space also reacted strongly to the vandalism. Ian Olson ‘14 has contributed to the grate in the past, writing several messages. He said he was horrified that people would use speech of that nature “either in jest or seriously.”

“It’s disrespectful to the idea of the grate,” he said, emphasizing that the space should be open and safe for the entire community. “When you do something like that to a community art space, you’re taking away someone else’s chance to write or draw,” Olson said.

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