The Writing on the Stall: Vol. 1

We are all captivated by bathroom graffiti. Each one of us has spent minutes, even hours, reading anonymous phrases, words of wisdom, cries for help, or personal messages as we do our business around campus. But what exactly does bathroom graffiti say about us? In the same way that one can learn much about a culture through a local dialect, or local cuisine, we at BlogDailyHerald suggest that we learn equally as much about a community through its anonymous restroom scrawlings. This semester, Elise Nuding and Harrison Stark dig into the grimiest, smelliest, and most artistic spaces on campus – public restrooms – to show you the best graffiti, and reveal what it tells us about Brown, each other, and ourselves.

Every space on campus has its own atmosphere – – its own culture. Bathrooms are no exception. To kick off our series, we look at graffiti in the level A bathrooms of the Rockerfeller library.

Graffiti in the male bathrooms on Level A of the Rock tends to center around homosexual themes. For example, we see questions relating to wider gay culture on campus, such as the query: “where are all the straight acting gay men?” Underneath, we can glimpse a stick-figure doodle of three men engaged in oral and anal sex, accompanied by the caption “double-down”. Additionally, in two other stalls, there are messages soliciting (presumably homo)sexual favors; we can read in sharpie: “get sucked off here at 12 – free lunch for me” and “back early, looking for cock.”

Given the historically taboo nature of homosexuality, even at a campus as accepting as Brown’s, it is perhaps unsurprising that dialogues of homoerotic desire are played out anonymously on the walls of a restroom – the stalls providing a space unlike any other on campus. However, there is a cohesiveness to the messages, and a predominance of homosexual themes unrivaled in any of the other library restrooms, suggesting that the level A stalls are a unique space where male homoeroticism is discussed and facilitated.

However, by far the most visible piece of graffiti is the unlikely message scrawled in enormous letters on the back of the middle-stall door:

“Mobs of white men used to murder black men, and sometimes their families, accusing them of raping white women. This was nearly always indisputably untrue.”

This is the largest piece of graffiti in the Rock, possibly the largest on campus. Its stark black lettering makes the writing bold and iconic – – captivating and un-missable. The phrase is striking partially because it is so out of place among the slew of predominantly sexual-themed graffiti. Additionally, the topic of racial injustice and the history of lynch mobs is one much discussed in Brown classrooms; one would initially think the message would form the basis of an academic investigation or paper, rather than an anonymous bathroom scrawl. That the author believes the bathroom is the only venue for disclosing this message is perhaps revealing about discussions of race and history at Brown, or at least of conceptions of these conversations.

Next week, Elise will look at the female restrooms next door. In the meantime, if you spy any good graffiti on campus, put those iPhones to good use and send your pictures to harrison_stark@brown.edu or elise_nuding@brown.edu. We’ll make you famous.

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