Graffiti is something that New Yorkers know far too well. It first appeared in the 60’s primarily by activists to make political statements and gang members who marked their territory with symbols like arrows and crowns, letters and words. As the years went on, graffiti became a style and a craft.
In the 80’s graffiti was all over most buildings and trains, especially in poor neighborhoods in parts of the Bronx, Brooklyn and Harlem. It had expanded beyond gangs and was part of hip hop culture and a way for artists to express themselves. Residents felt mixed about graffiti, and the police cracked down. During this time, the MTA started a massive clean-up program that discouraged artists and others from writing and drawing.
Today there is much less graffiti than back in the day, though there are still places where graffiti artists are allowed to “tag up.” At CCNY, what some see as art, others see as vandalism. If you look closely, you will find graffiti on walls in the small NAC library rooms on the first, third, fourth and fifth floors or in bathroom stalls and even in some classrooms. It’s mainly scribbled names and small caricatures. However, some students have been more creative. At one point you could see a detailed drawing of a Ferrari drawn on the wall of a study room in Cohen Library, and in the women’s bathroom in the Compton building, an striking, abstract vagina.
Is it art or eyesore? Students have mixed feelings.
“I think that there is a place for artful graffiti or graffiti that makes a social or political statement,” says Hannah Riley, a CCNY sophomore. “There is a difference between stupidly tagging up anywhere over and over again and a tag that is well placed or extremely artful.”
“The ‘typical’ graffiti,” she adds, “is obnoxious.”
English creative writing major Sharonda Taylor agrees. She thinks graffiti can harm a school’s image, although she believes there’s a time and place for it. “I think that students should respect our school. It looks ugly and nasty when they write on walls and desks,” Taylor says.
While students have varied feelings about graffiti, the employees charged with keeping our campus clean don’t tolerate it. They have to constantly paint over and scrub off graffiti from walls, desks and bathrooms. They are currently trying to find the person who has been using marker to draw the same small faces all over the school.
“Graffiti is a huge issue on campus for custodians,” explains Wilma Nieves, an office assistant at CCNY’s facilities and physical plant services. “Custodians are constantly checking for graffiti so that they can remove it.”
According to an officer in investigations at the CCNY office of public safety and security, tagging can lead to a class B misdemeanor charge. “A person writing graffiti on the walls at school must be seen by an officer, student, or staff member in order to be arrested and charged with ‘making graffiti’,” said the officer, who asked not to be named.
He explained that a student can be charged criminally or by student affairs which would then decide if the student would be put on probation or have to take part in community service.
Not many students are prosecuted, however. “Unfortunately, it’s very hard to catch people writing graffiti, and right now we are trying to find out who is drawing the same face all throughout the CCNY buildings. Custodians are currently taking care of the problem by painting over or erasing graffiti.”
In the end, most students question whether graffiti is actually art, but also don’t think tagging is a serious crime. “I don’t really think I could take a stand positive or negative on graffiti, but I think of it as an art it should be respected,” Riley says. “But people who randomly tag up should respect private and public property.”