Residential College director in discussion with 'Take Back the RC' movement

By Alex Bernard, Daily Arts Writer
Published April 11, 2014

Today, students, faculty and staff gathered in the Keene Theater in East Quad for a town hall meeting to discuss Take Back the RC, a movement that started just a month ago.

Late in the evening on March 16, a group of rebellious RC students snuck into the East Quad basement, chose a space on the blank white wall, and painted a message. In bold black letters they wrote “the WORK OF ART IS A SCREAM OF FREEDOM – Christo.”

Two days later, the mural was painted over by the East Quad maintenance staff, but the effects could not be covered up. A Facebook page was launched titled “Take Back the RC,” which refers to returning the RC and its East Quad home to its former sense of community and creative freedom.

The page and the demonstration triggered a chain reaction: two more unauthorized murals, a flurry of Facebook likes and one e-mail from Residential College Director Angela Dillard.

On March 28, no more than two weeks after the first mural was painted, a group of 11 students — each involved in the painting of at least one mural — met with Dillard to discuss the murals, the movement and the future of the walls-turned-canvas.

According to RC sophomore Kerry Fingerle, a leader in the “Take Back the RC” movement and an attendee of the meeting, at no point in the meeting did Professor Dillard actually reprimand the muralists for their actions.

“They definitely didn’t say we should have done that,” Fingerle said.

In fact, Fingerle said that there was “definitely a positive vibe going around the community,” and not just within the student body. She said that even professors were excited that the “guerrilla paintings” had given RC students a chance to openly express themselves.

Dillard, however, believes that “there [wasn’t] any real agreement among the faculty. A lot of people had a lot of different reactions to this.”

The meeting then turned to the movement itself.

Fingerle said students told Dillard that, apart from student expression, the movement was about “an atmosphere of constantly reevaluating the RC’s pedagogy and how we’re learning and where we learn.”

“You know, it’s pretty clear that the classroom is only part of the equation,” Fingerle said.

And Dillard said she understood that distinction.

“I had really come to believe that this was not fundamentally about art on walls at all. (It was about) a sense of community, wanting to be a part of a really vibrant learning community, the kind of real uneasiness that a lot of students, faculty staff have been dealing with all year,” she said.

“One of the interesting things about that meeting,” Dillard said, “was a sense of borrowed nostalgia, for a past that (the students) didn’t directly experience but are nostalgic about nonetheless.”

Much of the meeting also focused on the idea of the RC’s past affecting its future.

“The past should be an inspiration, but it shouldn’t be a noose around your neck … I think (the students) are in such a great position because they get to make the first new marks on the space,” Dillard said. “I want them to see the blank walls as an opportunity.”

Naturally, the conversation then turned to the Housing staff and the effect the murals have on maintenance. The group that met with Dillard plans to send an apology to Housing this coming week.

“Having a good relationship with Housing is in our best interest, and it is worth an apology,” Fingerle said. “We painted and they have to clean it up … It is rude. So an apology is completely understandable.”

As for the movement’s future plans, the students are considering possible solutions, including proposed changes to Housing’s policy on murals.

“We’re in the middle of drafting of the policy we find acceptable,” Fingerle said, “And having Housing review it and having (Dillard) review it.”

Fingerle said their preferred solution might look similar to the “old RC provisions,” which were enacted in the ‘70s and ’80s. These procedures included approval of the mural from both residents and the Housing Coordinator, restrictions on painting spaces and the requirement that “only paint be used.”

As a result, murals would spring up all over old East Quad, including in the Halfway Inn, the name of EQ’s café before renovations. The students christened the space the “The Half-Ass Inn” and painted the student-dubbed name in extravagant lettering on the brick wall.

Take Back the RC may have to compromise if they hope to expedite the process.

“One thing (Housing) doesn’t want is paint directly on the walls. They want sort of like this canvas — I guess the closest description would be this canvas-wallpaper that you paint over … It’s just so that it can be taken down instead of painted over,” Fingerle said.

Fingerle added that the group is open to that kind of solution. She added that the negotiations center on whose consent should be needed for a mural to be painted in any given space.

“The more people you have to have approve it, the harder it is … you can’t please everyone with a certain idea.”

Even needing to jump through hoops might be better than no hoops at all though. Fingerle said Housing currently has no standard policy in place for student murals. As a result, the students are in the process of planning meetings with both Professor Dillard and Housing.

“We’ll put the language forward to say students should be meeting with Housing in the next week or two.”

These students may be from the movement, but, according to Fingerle, may also be members of the RC Republic, the Residential College’s student government. The RC Republic has already approached Housing numerous times about mural policy, apparently without result.

For the time being, Fingerle remains optimistic about the movement’s future though.

“Hopefully the policy will be in place and approved with Housing and with the RC administration by the end of this semester,” she said.

Perhaps the end of finals will be celebrated with the mass painting of Christo quotes and a resurgence of color on East Quad’s white walls. We will see.