Students in East Quad fight to 'Take Back the RC'

By Alex Bernard, For The Daily
Published March 23, 2014

Late Sunday night, a group of students painted a mural in the basement of East Quad. They did so without permission or approval, but with a very specific vision in mind. In big bold letters, they wrote “the WORK OF ART IS A SCREAM OF FREEDOM – Christo.”

Two days later, East Quad maintenance staff painted over the mural. That same day, the Facebook page“Take Back the RC” was launched.

The page’s title references the 2012-2013 renovations to East Quad, which have given the dorms an almost “hotel-like” atmosphere (blank white walls, cushy chairs, a law firm-esque dining hall, etc.). Presently, there is a zero-tolerance policy for wall murals at East Quad — but that may be changing fairly soon.

RC students are pushing for a return to the old EQ community, which was characterized by underground music venues, paint-covered walls and a generally grungy ambiance. Without a suitable creation space though, many students believe a suitable RC is not possible. The Residential College is in East Quad, but as of right now, the two might not be interchangeable.

Since the removal of the Christo quote, other murals have sprung up throughout EQ, presumably in the middle of the night. Pictures of the paintings were posted to the “Take Back the RC” Facebook page, which has accrued 350+ likes and spurred an email from Professor Angela Dillard, Director of the Residential College.

I had a chance to sit down with the founders of the page and later, the muralists themselves. (Both the page founders and the muralists wish to remain anonymous while the project continues.)

“We wanted to create something that had the chance to stay up forever … The purpose wasn’t just to send a message, it was to make something that had the potential to stay there as a piece of art.”

The founders of the “Take Back the RC” Facebook page explained that the page wasn’t created to inspire or incite the painting of murals, but rather to document them.

“We as a page are not encouraging students to do anything. We really want to avoid encouraging people to vandalize things,” one said.

The founders said that the page is about “promoting an environment where RC students have the ability to express themselves creatively and freely.”

According to them, this feeling has not existed at all in the new building.

“The housing administration sees (the new East Quad) as their shining new object, whereas RC students see this as more of a blank canvas.”

They mentioned instances of “completely harmless, completely removable, completely non-permanent art that have gone up around the building.” These pieces were promptly removed, usually on the same day.

On March 19, just one day after the launch of “Take Back the RC,” Residential College director Angela Dillard sent out an email to the entire Residential College (students, staff and faculty), addressing the murals and the movement. Notably, Professor Dillard opened with the line, “Every work of Art is a scream for Freedom,” which was the quote included in the first mural.

Dillard addressed the desire for murals by referencing an older “Guide to the RC” from the 1970s/’80s. The Guide detailed the old process for creating murals in East Quad. The procedure included approval from both residents and the Housing Coordinator, restrictions on painting spaces and the requirement that “only paint can be used.” Suffice to say, this was not a zero tolerance policy.

Along with the optimistic message, Professor Dillard also addressed the use of murals as a message.

“We ought to be respectful of our colleagues in Housing who are charged with the maintenance of our shared spaces, and we need to be respectful of each other … Further acts, I’m afraid, will start to look more like vandalism and I’m worried about that dynamic that often seems to take things too far.”

The page founders said that the ’70s and ’80s policy outlined in the email “sounds reasonable,” saying they’d agree to this proposal if it were proposed during negotiations.

The students, however, remarked, that the process wouldn’t be as easy as Dillard implied in the email.

“She came off as a little bit too optimistic that we would be able to easily reach a compromise. I’m not sure any negotiations that might occur would be that easy.”

They said that the email’s positive tone may simply be an appeasement method to prevent other students from painting future murals. Nevertheless, the students remained cautiously optimistic: “If we facilitate an open conversation … hopefully something will be reached that’s going to allow creation to occur in the way that it did in old East Quad.”

Looking toward the future, a petition has been released on the Facebook page detailing the movement and the its goals. As signatures are accumulated, the founders are also in the process of organizing a group to meet with Dillard and University Housing officials.

Likewise, the muralists said that, while they have ideas, no murals are planned for the near future. The artists warned that more murals would “damage the trust” between Housing and students.

“I don’t think anything that went up unofficially right now would benefit the cause in any other way.” said one of the artists.

And yet, they too, remained optimistic about the future of the RC.

As the founders said, hopefully in the future “Take Back the RC” will be changed to “RC Murals.”

We’ll see.