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Stern graffiti tradition remains immutable

For Mills students, covering the stalls of the Lucie Stern bathroom with notes on various topics has become a tradition that no one wants to give up. (Alexina Estrada)
For Mills students, covering the stalls of the Lucie Stern bathroom with notes on various topics has become a tradition that no one wants to give up. (Alexina Estrada)

Orange, blue and pink marker pop out from the thin letters and sketches. Conversations, rants and quotes are scribbled all together. Games of tic-tack-toe and doodles of cats sprawl between the disparate messages.

No, this isn’t the journal or notebook of an art major. This is the Lucie Stern bathroom.

The walls are a compilation of various handwriting and personalities. Although the walls and doors have been painted over more than once, the scribbles have reappeared continuously. The bathroom is known to always have messages and doodles that accumulate throughout the year. For as long as anyone can remember, it has always been the bathroom with an outstanding amount of graffiti. It’s become a tradition that whenever the stalls are painted over, students come back and write all over them again.

“It’s definitely the number one graffiti site [on campus],” said Linda Zitzner, Associate Vice President of Operations.

Both inappropriate and inspirational quotes are written throughout the three stalls. Students have proclaimed their love for Mills College while others have expressed their contempt for their classes and organizations. Or they are just trying to be funny.

(Photo by Alexina Estrada)
(Photo by Alexina Estrada)

For example, one note reads: “sometimes I’m nervous someone will hear me using the rest room, or recognize me by my shoes. I don’t know why. Everyone does this.” And another: “Things I Hate: 1. Lists 2. Irony 3. Vandalism”.

According to Zitzner, it is routine to touch up the graffiti with paint at the beginning of every fall term and, if enough graffiti has accumulated, even paint over it at the beginning of Spring, too. But despite this constant maintenance, students do not want to give up the tradition. 

Sarah Weir, a first year, said that she wishes the bathroom wasn’t painted over so she could see all the graffiti of the past together.

“But then after a while there wouldn’t be anywhere else to write,” she lamented. “It gives freshwomen a chance to see one quote and then they write something.”

Weir said that the bathroom stalls and walls are a place that people can go to write about how they are feeling, and get responses from people, and to start something.

“I wrote that class is a challenge and I love it and hate it at the same time,” said a Mills first year student, who wished to remain anonymous. She wrote a message about her classes making her depressed, happy, and anxious. The message was later responded to by someone who said they felt the same way, and reminded the student to take a deep breath.

“Take a deep breath is . . . not going to help me with anything,” the student said. “But it was still sweet.”

On the opposite ends of the spectrum, the bathroom tagging is argued to be either tradition or vandalism. To many Mills students the messages have become a part of the bathroom and it has become routine to look at the scribbles and anonymous messages.

If you walk into the third stall, the first message you might see reads: “You are all fabulous :)” in brown ink. But once inside, the messages become angrier and more upsetting. Junior Taylor Warmack said she thinks some of the messages are offensive.

“Bathroom walls are not the place to vent about issues you are having with your school or life,” she said. “Write a letter to somebody or do nothing at all, don’t vandalize the girls bathroom.”

Besides the conflicting feelings of the messages and doodles, they reappear every time the bathroom is painted over. With every fresh coat of paint, new conversations, feelings, and ink will find their way onto the wall.

As Zitzner put it,”It seems to be tradition.”