Wash. Ave. Bridge panels vandalized

Kevin Behr

Armed with pens and black markers, vandals scrawled graffiti on many student group panels on the Washington Avenue Bridge last week.

While investigating a report of vandalism, the Student Activities Office discovered 23 panels with some form of graffiti on them, said Mandi Watkins, assistant director of student activities.

The majority of the graffiti was done in pen, thought to be by the same person because of the similarity of the handwriting, Watkins said.

But vandalism is more than just a simple joke pulled by a prankster.

“Obviously, it’s a crime,” said Steve Johnson, deputy chief of University police. “It’s damage to property.”

The penalty for vandalism varies from a misdemeanor to a felony, depending on the amount of damage done.

Much of the graffiti appeared on panels advertising the Queer Student Cultural Center and affiliated groups. Because of this, the crime seems bias-related, Johnson said, which could make the penalties stiffer.

The Student Activities Office filed a report with the University’s Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Office because of the nature of the vandalism, Watkins said.

The incidents

The graffiti ranged from answering rhetorical questions to expletives and even drawings of genitalia.

The Sigma Nu fraternity panel asked passersby, “Want to get NU’d?” A vandal replied, “No.”

The Campus Republicans panel used to say, “We Kick Ass,” with a picture of an elephant kicking a donkey. A vandal crossed out “Kick Ass,” replaced it with a phrase referring to oral sex, and made the elephant appear to be engaged in the act.

“(Vandals) think their opinions are so important they can just destroy someone else’s hard work,” Watkins said. “It’s just very disappointing.”

Mike Grewe, an officer for the Queer Student Cultural Center, said about seven of the 39 panels related to the gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender community were vandalized. At least one featured an expletive command, he said.

“I think it’s disgusting and kind of childish,” Grewe said. “It was very offensive and shows that there is a climate on campus that is homophobic.”

In an e-mail notifying the groups of vandalism, Vice Provost of Student Affairs Jerry Rinehart said, “The level of vandalism and the language used on some of the vandalized panels is disturbing.”

What’s next?

Groups whose panels were vandalized received notices of the graffiti and were given a chance to clean it up themselves, Watkins said.

For those who chose not to, the Student Activities Office will paint over the graffiti today, she said.

Most of the graffiti appeared in the white spaces of the panels. Painting over them won’t destroy the advertisements, Watkins said. But at least two panels, including the Campus Republicans’, will need to be completely repainted because of the nature of the graffiti on them, she said.

University police are investigating the case, but currently have no leads or witnesses, Johnson said. If anyone saw the vandalism take place or knows anything about the case, they should contact University police, he said.

Police are in the process of installing security cameras on the bridge to monitor both the inside and outside of the walking shelter, Johnson said.

“Theoretically, something like (the vandalism) could be caught on camera to help investigate the crime,” Johnson said.

Carolyn Chalmers, interim Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Office director, said the office responds to bias reports by trying to uncover who is responsible. If the incident has to do with a crime, the EOAA typically lets the police take care of it, she said.

But EOAA responsibilities do not end where police duties begin. The office gives support to targets of bias-related incidents and will brainstorm ideas with them to bolster respectful interaction in the community, Chalmers said.

A history of vandalism

Watkins said there have not been problems with graffiti on student panels in the past, but the Washington Avenue Bridge has a long history of vandalism.

The student panels as we know them today used to be glass, Johnson said.

“They got busted out so many times and it was so expensive they put in wood panels,” he said.

The wood panels were drab browns and whites and accumulated graffiti that “looked terrible,” Johnson said.

So the Student Activities Office allowed students to

advertise their groups on the panels.

“It was a very brilliant idea,” Johnson said. “It really helped reduce graffiti on the bridge.”