Mead Hall is currently undergoing a host of renovations, prompting the Pitzer Office of Student Affairs to send an email Feb. 11 detailing the changes made. Listed amongst announcements of new appliances and lighting fixtures was the news that some of the murals that decorate the beloved building had been declared unapproved and were to be removed, hidden behind a fresh coat of paint.
While the huge murals that stand prominently on the front and sides of the residence hall were preserved, some of the smaller pieces on the student balconies and interior walls were painted over.
The news places Mead Hall at a challenging crossroads. While the residence hall has been in need of renovation for some years now, the loss of some of the building’s unapproved murals has sparked feelings of both sadness and frustration, especially at a time when students are not able to be on campus.
However, the problem is not that Mead Hall was renovated and some unapproved murals were lost in the process. The concern is that the murals were removed before notifying the broader Pitzer community, who, scattered across the country and the world, were unaware of the decision.
In the future, the Campus Aesthetics Committee should notify the student body of all plans for the removal of artwork on campus. An email explaining the reasons for removal — in this case, the murals had not gone through the proper approval process — and listing the specific pieces in question would bring the broader Pitzer community into the process, even if the final decision ultimately remains with the Campus Aesthetics Committee.
Mead Hall exists as the physical and artistic center of Pitzer’s campus, and for years, its walls served as a blank canvas for a vast array of student artwork.
From the massive murals that decorate the exterior of the building to the Free Wall, the works serve as an artistic legacy. It’s a tradition passed down from class to class, each one making its own mark on a beautiful and diverse tapestry.
The murals document student experiences and creativity and serve as living memories, a thread that ties Pitzer’s past to its present and reminds students of the core values for which the institution stands.
The fact that any of this artwork was painted over undoubtedly comes as sobering news for many.
But the years had begun to show. Worn furniture, cracking paint and ageing bathrooms served as a testament to all the years and the thousands of students Mead Hall housed. Few would dispute that the building needed some attention and care.
Indeed, the renovations will undoubtedly come as welcome news to the many students who will hopefully return to campus in the fall.
In the past, Pitzer students received emails from the Campus Aesthetics Committee announcing the events of their most recent meetings, especially in cases where new murals were approved for future addition. While the news rarely sparks much discussion or debate, it has always felt nice to be notified about what is being decided and which parts of campus will be changing. While only four students are on the Campus Aesthetics Committee at any given time, the emails served as a way to bring everyone else into the conversation.
No such email was sent out to notify students about the most recent removals.
Pitzer’s core values, one of which is “student engagement,” are an integral part of life at the college, and they are central to guiding decision making. They guide the choices made by the school’s leadership, and every applicant writes an essay about them as part of the admissions process. While the very existence of a group like the Campus Aesthetics Committee does speak to Pitzer’s commitment to this value, student engagement means all the students.
It means being open about what steps are being taken to improve and change the campus and allowing a broader discussion to take place before decisions are made and actions are taken. This could be something as simple as sending an email out to all students listing which murals are being considered for removal and why and allowing students to voice their concerns.
The Campus Aesthetics Committee ultimately has the power to decide which murals to add and which to remove, and I am grateful that there are students who feel passionate about curating student artwork on campus. But the broader community still deserves to be aware. If we hear about all the new murals set to be added in the future, then we should also hear about all the murals set to be removed.
Upon opening the original email, the feeling of surprise at not knowing ahead of time affected me much more deeply than the specific outcome did. Inviting the broader Pitzer community into the process is a policy that both upholds our core values and more accurately reflects the close-knit community I am so thankful to have a place in.
Ryan Lillestrand PZ ’23 lives in Carlsbad, CA, but grew up in Florence, Italy. He is an avid reader and intends on majoring in international political economy with a minor in cognitive science.