It grows like a stubborn weed, much to the ire of school administration and building services. It perseveres between cracks in the teal bathroom tiling and crawls up the speckled stalls in silver Sharpie ink. From the most elevated quotes hailing from great works of literature to the most outdated of memes, it remains an unspoken but persistent part of culture here—graffiti.
Following Unity Week, this staple of the restroom experience has undergone a tonal shift.
Senior Doga Tasdemir is one of many students to notice this change. On a trip to the girls’ toilets, she was disturbed to see a symbol etched onto the wall of the stall. “I saw a swastika. And there was some vulgar language about Donald Trump that I don’t want to repeat. I was just very uncomfortable. It was the first time I had seen a symbol like that. I didn’t know who to go to,” she said. “I was just so uncomfortable that someone [here] would do something like that. Even if it’s something sarcastic, it’s still very, very extreme.”
Freshman Jay Capitelli confirmed that this type of graffiti was not limited to one location or one target group, “I saw, right above the hand dryer [in the boys’ bathroom], ‘Yo, chill with that gay shit’ and a drawing of male genitalia.” He, like Tasdemir, was uneasy with the situation. “It made me feel a little uncomfortable. I don’t know why someone would do that. It’s kind of inappropriate. I have gay friends.”
These two specific instances of defacement meet the American Bar Association’s definition of hate speech, or “speech that offends, threatens or insults groups based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability or other traits.” While hate speech is not prohibited by the United States Constitution or the Supreme Court, the unlawful action of vandalism or defacement is. States and organizations discourage hate speech through banning criminal behavior that serves as an outlet for hate speech.
Whatever intentions these examples of graffiti were inscribed with, there is no dismissing their real life consequences. Swastikas are inseparable from their Nazi and white nationalist histories, particularly offensive to people of Jewish descent and to anyone who does not match the Aryan race “ideal”. Meanwhile, Capitelli sighted language that takes aim at members of the LGBTQ+ community.
The janitorial staff have been hard at work combatting general defacement throughout the school this year. Julian Meertens, Building Service Manager, is well aware of this sudden spike in such graffiti. “I have heard about these. We’re working with security to take care of the issue,” he said. “We take a picture of the graffiti and try to identify the student. We work to get [the words and symbols] cleared as soon as possible.”
Meertens additionally encouraged students to report instances of hate speech in the school to security. The security office is located on the ground level floor next to room 130. The building services office can be found next to the boys’ locker room on the lower level.