The Oberlin Review
<< Front page News December 8, 2006

Freedom of Expression of Creative Energies

Harkies’ means of expression have long been a source of controversy, from accusations of cultural appropriation for sporting dreadlocks and banging hand drums to this story from nine years ago, when a seemingly innocent dinosaur wreaked havoc in the OSCA community.

—The News Team

December 11, 1987

Walking into the Harkness Co-op kitchen, one may read the following: “Harkness — where we like to think we’re open-minded and tolerant.”

Written on a pipe in black magic marker, the statement remains among countless other items of graffiti as a bitter reminder of a long-term debate in the cooperative over what subjects are and are not appropriate for the graffiti that has covered the kitchen walls for at least four years. What initially seems a superficial issue, the graffiti at Harkness has raised serious concerns of freedom of expression, libel, censorship and sensitivity to certain groups within the co-op community.

Senior Mia Buchwald remembers minor conflicts over Harkness graffiti during her first year but these did not prove as heated as the debate this year.

The Harkness kitchen started this year with clean walls. The previous graffiti that could be removed had been scrubbed off, a process termed “erasure” among the co-op members. And while the walls soon became covered again with graffiti, the controversy did not begin again until what is now known as the “did it” stage.

“Eventually there was a place where someone wrote ‘someone did it’ all over the kitchen,” explains sophomore Gus Mueller.

Shortly after, an individual wrote “fuck off” next to the many “did it” statements. During this time a large amount of scatological graffiti had started to cover the walls. The later erasure of the “fuck” graffiti inspired a series of statements suggesting that those who “erased” the graffiti were censors and fascists, according to Mueller.

More erasure occurred and as a result more statements about censorship. The debate continued after fall break, manifest on the walls, in conversations, in an allegedly libelous publication entitled “Fecal Funnies” distributed to the co-op, and on the Tappan Square rock where the acronym FECES (Freedom of Expression of Creative EnergieS) was painted.


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