Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Stalls in the women’s bathroom on a hall in Mertz were found covered in sexually explicit graffiti on two occasions during the last week of September. The first instance of graffiti, which was uncovered around 7:00 pm on the evening of Thursday, September 30th, contained crude and sexually explicit drawings targeting a woman on the hall. The next morning, another student found more graffiti containing two sets of drawings on the second stall in the bathroom. One set of drawings was similar to the first, and named another woman on the hall. The second depicted a man perpetrating a violent, sexual act. While reports have been filed with Public Safety on the incident, there are no leads or new information on who may have been responsible for the drawings.
The second set of drawings was found by a senior woman living in Mertz at around 7:00 AM. She said, “I woke up and went to the bathroom and saw an out of order sign on the first stall. When I opened the second stall, I saw the drawings there.” The drawings were drawn by hand in Sharpie; there was no indication of who had drawn them. According to the RA on the hall, the two drawings were discovered within 24 hours of each other. “One was reported at 7pm, and the second at 7am the next morning,” he said. He placed an out-of-order sign on the stall where the first set of drawings were located, and covered them with a poster until the EVS crew could permanently remove them. Public Safety was notified on both occasions. After taking statements and photographing the drawings, they notified Dean of Gender Education Karen Henry ’87, the dean on call.
Henry explained that after being contacted by Public Safety, she contacted Dean of Students Garikai Campbell ’90 and spoke with the Mertz RAs. “We decided to call in the students whose names were identified and talked to them and offered them support,” she said. “We were concerned it would happen again, so we also sent out an email to the residents of Mertz discussing the incident.”
Mertz residents received an e-mail the next week from Campbell. He wrote, “Ordinarily this kind of behavior is considered too juvenile to warrant a response by the Dean’s Office. Unfortunately, in this instance, the first inappropriate drawing was followed closely by another, and the images were large, vulgar and violent; and hence, did warrant a note to the community.”
In an interview, Campbell explained that the deans’ first response in a situation like this was to not only give support to the students targeted by the drawings, but “to insure that the entire community is well taken care of.” He said that acts like this constitute “damage to the trust within the community,” damage which the deans hope to find a way to repair.
Campbell also stated that if the perpetrator would come forth, he would also want to support him or her. “There’s a way in which that kind of behavior that comes out is a reflection of something that’s maybe painful or going on with the actual perpetrator as well,” he explained. “I don’t want to suggest raising the perpetrator’s concerns over the victim’s, whoever the victim might be — and the victims might be the entire community — but they too need some counseling, and we’re hoping that we can reach out and encourage that person to seek the help that they need as well.”
At this point, neither Public Safety, the RAs, nor the Dean’s Office have any insight into who the perpetrator(s) may be, or what their motivation was. “Truthfully, it could’ve been a childish prank,” said Henry. “I don’t think we could speak to [their motivations]. It could’ve been that they were angry about something stupid and unrelated, or it could be that it was specific to the [two women mentioned].” The hall RA said that “I could not begin to guess [who was responsible]. The vandalism so bizarre and shocking that we couldn’t even begin to figure it out, so we are more concerned about the [students targeted] who we do know about.”
Those who saw the graffiti have been horrified and revolted. “I was really repulsed, especially when I noticed all of the details,” said the student who uncovered the second drawing. “I just found it really disturbing and disgusting. I think it’s kind of scary that someone did go into our bathroom and took the time to make these drawings and added quite a bit of detail, they’re clearly not stable.” The Mertz RA involved said that he was shocked and outraged upon seeing the drawings. “It was just totally stunning. It was not something I would’ve expected to find. It seemed so beyond anything I would’ve imagined happening, so direct and blatant and large,” he said. “It’s not even a ‘this wouldn’t happen at Swat’ thing, but coming up on behavior like that would be shocking for anyone.”
Henry had not looked at the drawings closely enough to see their actual content. But she said that “I’m always surprised when there is graffiti of any kind that attacks a person. I think it’s very specific to name a person, and I’m always disturbed by that kind of behavior, the anonymous nature of that.”
Campbell says that he remains hopeful that the Dean’s Office can work to repair the “damage in trust” that this incident may have caused. “We hope that through some conversation, working with the RAs again, we can figure out ways to talk about it,” he said. “I think that the rest of the community will take the opportunity to say that this is inappropriate, that we don’t accept this. I think in encouraging people to say out loud that this is unacceptable, there’s a way in which you can both drown out and draw out any voice that might think about doing this again.”
Ultimately, he hopes that those responsible will step forward and seek out the guidance that they may need. He also believes that the community will be able to support each other through this time. “I’m confident that anyone who is hurt by even hearing about this incident will be supported; we’re open, letting all students know that we’re open to them if they want somebody to talk to.”
Dougal Sutherland contributed reporting for this story.