Academic Graffiti: University Hallways Are Covered in Personal Expression

By and

From looking at ceramic professor Brian Snapp’s office door, it is easy to tell he is not a native Utahn.

Remnants of California hang by tape, tack or nail on the door: a sheet of plastic from a surfboard, a sticker that reads “eat, sleep, surf” and a newspaper clipping of a surfer being swallowed by a giant wave, to name a few.

The collage of stickers, clippings, photographs and knickknacks posted on Snapp’s office door have been collected since he began teaching at the U three years ago.

Snapp said the items he chooses to hang are directed at students “and usually, what I choose to put up are things that have more meaning than just what is on the surface,” Snapp said.

The hidden meaning of a tattered restaurant menu may be harder to understand than a sticker that reads “Save Our Wetlands,” or a voodoo doll that dangles from a strand of Mardi Gras beads, but for Snapp the message is clear, or at least was at the time he hung the items.

“Eventually the surface takes on a life of its own,” he said.

Environmental psychology professor Carol Werner said that professors put things on their doors that they feel represent themselves.

“The doors themselves serve as a forum,” she said.

After last year’s terrorist attacks, she hung the U.S. flag on her door, expressing her patriotism. The “I Love Clean Air” sticker represents her green?environmentally-aware and friendly?side, while the comics she has stuck to the door with age-yellowed tape represent her sense of humor.

“People put things on their doors to symbolize themselves. However, the things people put on the outside of their doors are often less intimate than things they put in their room,” she said.

And Werner is no exception to her own theory.

On the front of her door she hung three pictures of Michael Jordan. “I think he is hot,” she said. “Just look at him. I really do think he is sexy as heck.”

But the fascination with the man called the greatest basketball player of all time seems to end at the door. Inside, instead of Jordan’s “sexy” face, Werner has hung pictures of animals and natural landscapes. Above her desk is a picture of her husband, not a pop idol.

With two other U psychologists, Werner participated in a research project that studied what students hang inside and outside of their dorm rooms.

“It was fascinating. Students placed things on the outside that were meant to provoke. While they may have a hidden meaning behind them, they are still less personal than the pictures inside,” Werner said.

It was on the inside of student dorms that researchers found pictures of family members, significant others and posters of half-naked celebrities and models.

“People do communicate things by the way they decorate,” Werner said. Many of the more pornographic posters in students’ dormitories were on the backsides of the doors, she said. “We don’t just place things arbitrarily.”

Sometimes the theories professors use when covering their doors with inside jokes, nonsensical images and political theories is not much different than gang members who graffiti the streets.

“What people choose to put on their doors are signs?indicators of social relationships that define territory,” Werner said.

Communication professor Mary Strine said the things she has hung on her door over her 31 years at the U are extensions of herself.

“Some things go up, some things come down, it changes from time to time,” Strine said, but she adds that everything that gets hung has a humanist and philosophical reason behind it. Sometimes it’s just a matter of finding the right cartoon that expresses the way you feel or have felt, she said.

But not everything posted on her door is as light-hearted as a comic strip.

At about waist level, she has posted a quote by Mother Jones, a labor activist for coal miners. The quote, which Strine came across while reading Jones’ autobiography, reads “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.”

To many, the sentence might be read as a straight-forward humanist slogan, but for those familiar with Jones, the words are a cry for laborers to organize.

She hung the quote because it says something she doesn’t always feel comfortable saying.

“The working class needs representation. Faculty are the working class, and they are frustrated. The organization of labor is important,” she said.

But not all hangings have a pointed philosophical meaning.

In the case of philosophy graduate student Dale Clark, the Power Puff Girl stickers plastered on his office door are a joke from a colleague who felt he didn’t spend enough time in his office over the summer.

[email protected]