Pitzer “Free Wall” Brings Questions of Free Speech

A free wall established on Mar. 31 on the north side of the Z tower of Pitzer College’s Mead residence hall has sparked several controversies, including whether students went through the proper channels to establish the wall as a “free wall,” a space not subject to Pitzer’s normal approval procedures. There were also concerns regarding certain words written on the wall and the spreading of free walls to other locations. Jim Marchant, Dean of Students and Vice President of Academic Affairs, and Christopher Brunelle, Director of Residential Life, have said that the Mead Hall council’s approval of the project was not sufficient, because it is a significant change in art policy that requires approval by College Council.

“I don’t think the free wall is something that our current art policy covers, and in fact, I think it may go against it,” said Brunelle. “If this is the case, I don’t think it’s something that a few members of Mead Hall Council can decide upon, but it needs ultimately to be brought to College Council as perhaps an amendment of our current outdoor art policy, which is almost 13 years old.”

Olivia Pollock PI ‘11 said that the free wall is supposed to be an alternative to submitting a proposal through what she called “the bureaucracy of Pitzer College.”

“The wall will make it possible for anyone on the campus to put up their work/piece of mind in that exact moment—without going through any group of editors,” said Pollock. “I understand that the Aesthetics Committee at Pitzer is extremely lenient, and the hall councils seem to be as well—in my understanding they approve mostly all requests, but I would argue against having any sort of committee for artistic approval.” Pollock said that the artwork and murals at Pitzer attracted her to the school.

“I was personally drawn to Pitzer for the murals,” said Pollock. “This idea of freedom of expression was a really attractive thing. I think that it is part of the school of Pitzer changing. I think it is a way for the student body to encapsulate this moment.”

Mead Hall Council President Stephania Villar PI ‘09 issued an Apr. 7 statement which supported the existence of the free wall.

“Mead Hall Council fully supports this endeavor and has been assured that anything that does not have a place within Pitzer’s community values will immediately be painted over,” said Villar. “This will be the only form of regulation thus far. As was previously stated, it boils down to trust in the Pitzer community. So whether for advertisements, expression, spontaneity, or fun, have at it.”

Controversy erupted after the words “Drink, smoke, f—, and meet your Maker” appeared on the wall. Some students feel that the attempt to regulate what is written on the wall is an assault on creativity.

“If you say that this language is offensive because it is about things that do not happen at Pitzer, than you are misinformed and wrong,” said Asa Kamer PI ‘11. “If you are saying that it is offensive not based on reality but on a higher moral code than you are not advocating an open art policy or one that is reflective of Pitzer. Clearly this is about the suppression of what someone out there has to say.”

Pollock said that anything written on the free wall should be permissible.

“I personally think that the wall is about momentary expression,” said Pollock. “If there is someone who feels something, they should write it. The wall is part of the community. I am not offended by ‘f—.’ There are things that would offend me, but I would just paint over it. I think that someone should think anything that they are feeling.”

Will Dozier PI ‘10, president of Holden Hall Council, said in an e-mail that the Mead Hall Council “acted too quickly” and that he advocates for more regulations if and when his hall council approves a free wall.

“Mr. Brunelle’s objections are considered and come from more experience than the average student,” said Dozier.

Brunelle also informed the community that students had spread the concept of a free wall to other unauthorized walls of dormitories on campus.

“I appreciate the idea and spirit of the free wall, but I’m concerned,” said Brunelle. “The free wall is spreading to more than just the designated wall. People have already painted on two other walls that weren’t approved by Mead Hall Council.”

Pollock thinks that any place should be considered a free wall.

“Being that I proposed the idea of a free wall, I am totally in support of spreading the free wall to other walls,” Pollock said. “I think that this is representational of what the community is. There is not enough space for art. No one has ladders yet. If you see a blank canvas, you will go for it.”

Pollock said that many people do not know what the free wall is about, so to remedy that she plans to paint a set of ideas about what the free wall could be about.

“It should not dictate what the wall would be,” said Pollock. “People could add to them or paint over my ideas if they don’t like them.”

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