Saturday night, just a few hours after members of the Queer Resource Center (QRC) finished painting a rainbow flag over the entirety of Walker Wall––a process which took two days––students participating in “Beverage Scavvy,” an annual scavenger hunt in which hundreds of 5C students participate, covered the wall with their teams’ names.
The rainbow flag was part of the QRC’s launch of its “Gaypril” events, which will continue throughout the month.
When the QRC painted the rainbow flag on Walker Wall last year, it remained intact for much longer, QRC Coordinator Adriana di Bartolo said.
However, this year the flag was painted on the same day that the scavenger hunt was scheduled to take place. Beverage Scavvy is a non-school-approved scavenger hunt that requires participants, in teams of three, to complete a variety of tasks while consuming a stipulated number of beverages of their choice. (Students typically choose to consume beer.) One of these tasks was to paint team names on Walker Wall, a task that most groups completed even though it meant painting over the Rainbow Flag.
Members of the QRC were shocked and angered Sunday morning when they discovered that the flag had been overwritten.
Zach Schudson PO ‘13, co-organizer of the rainbow flag painting, said, “While I see how unfortunate timing and misunderstanding contributed to what happened, I am concerned by the almost complete dismissal of some of the vile things written on the wall by many people at the college.”
Schudson referred to team names such as “Butt Pirates” and “Soggy Bottom Boys” as “terms commonly used to dehumanize gay men.”
“Simply because the people who wrote them treat those terms lightly and may not have had malicious intentions does not take away from the fact that their words negatively affected many members of the queer and allied community of the Claremont Colleges,” Schudson said. “No matter what the intent of the participants was, when I walked up to the rainbow wall I had painted earlier in the day and saw hateful, homophobic slurs on it, I felt unsafe, unwelcome, and uncomfortable being a visible queer person on campus.”
In a e-mail sent to the QRC Sunday evening (see page 6 for the text of the e-mail), “Team the Man V,” the organizers of Beverage Scavvy, who stayed consistently anonymous throughout Beverage Scavvy planning and aftermath in order to avoid administrative punishment, said writing on Walker Wall was in no way meant to offend or hurt anyone, and they apologized for what they called unfortunate timing.
“As the clues for Bev Scavvy were written significantly prior to the painting of the wall, and Team the Man V only became aware that the wall had been painted after Bev Scavvy’s commencement, this was essentially a case of very unfortunate timing,” they wrote in a e-mail sent to Beverage Scavvy participants.
However, according to QRC staff member theory friction practice PO ‘12, excusing the incident as an unfortunate coincidence does not provide an adequate answer for the number of team names that were derogatory.
“‘F*ck Bitches, Get Money, Get Drunk,’ would equally be a problem without a rainbow,” theory said, referring to one of the painted names.
Team the Man’s apology was “nice,” theory said, but it failed to engage with the social forces that produce the homophobia, sexism, and classism on this campus. This sentiment was echoed in an e-mail sent to several members of the Claremont Colleges community by the QRC.
Beverage Scavvy participants had varied reactions to the incident.
According to one participant, who preferred to remain anonymous, the wall was not defaced out of malice. Since Walker Wall is meant as a forum for free speech, the student said, scavenger hunt participants had as much right to paint on the wall as the QRC did.
“The entire wall was covered with the rainbow, leaving no space for any other group to write,” the anonymous student said. “This is disrespectful to other organizations who want to write on the wall but can’t because the queer community’s minority group status lends immutability to their messages here at Pomona.”
Another Beverage Scavvy participant felt differently.
“I didn’t really think to stop my teammate from writing on the wall, but as far as I know, we wrote rather inconspicuously,” one anonymous participant said. “Reflecting back on it the next day, I felt pretty bad because the participants of Beer Scavvy had tarnished something that had a large significance to a lot of people, many of whom I know well and who worked hard painting the wall…I do believe a large majority of the participants are merely guilty of absentmindedness and/or ignorance about the significance and timing of their actions at worst.”
“When I heard a fellow student say the she was – and I paraphrase – ‘Disgusted by anyone who wrote on Walker Wall and could never view them the same way,’ I was both appalled and furious. I feel that this type of judgment, on either side of this issue, is what we should be trying to fight against,” another participant said. “When she said that, she created an environment which made me feel uncomfortable sharing my beliefs and feelings about the issue, or being around her in general. I feel as though that this is the type of situation which groups like the QRC and other mentor support groups are fighting against.”
On Sunday morning, in compliance with the Pomona College Student Handbook, Pomona deans consulted with student representatives from the Associated Students of Pomona College (ASPC) and painted over four slogans on the wall deemed “obscene by community standards,” including “Butt Pirates” and “Soggy Bottom Boys.”
According to an anonymous member of the latter Beverage Scavvy team, the team name was taken directly from the name of the bluegrass band formed by the three main characters in the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?
“Clearly, they are looking to get offended if they are going to get offended by that,” the student said.
Some students have looked for ways to apologize for the incident.
Peter Chinman PO ’12 created a Facebook event calling for students to repaint Walker Wall Apr. 10. At the time of publication, 172 students were listed as attending the event.
“Sure you were drunk, sure you didn’t mean any harm, but there are times when the only appropriate course is to take responsibility for the results of your actions, regardless of the intention behind them,” the event description reads.
Di Bartolo was impressed by the sentiment, but she believes the issue cannot be resolved with such a superficial solution.
“The language around it makes it seem like the wall getting painted over was merely inconvenient and that repainting it would be enough for reconciliation,” theory said. “So, to say it was just the wall does not account for all the systematic stuff that runs through our culture and gets expressed here.”
Instead, theory is encouraging students involved in Beverage Scavvy to attend Student Ally Training at the QRC on Apr. 23 to gain a better understanding of how this conflict is more than merely a case of bad timing.
“This is an intelligent population,” di Bartolo said. “It is time to take responsibility and identify when something is hurtful to someone else. It is time we start really taking responsibility for our words and our actions.”