The University recently completed construction on the outside Newcomb Hall, intended to be a place of quiet reflection and contemplation honoring the lives of students who have passed away. The idea has reportedly been circulating for over a decade, but the murder of second-year College student Hannah Graham in 2014 provided the needed impetus to move forward with the project. The courtyard has always been intended as a place for remembrance and reflection, featuring a plaque commemorating the lives of fallen students and a bench dedicated to the late Capt. Humayun Khan, who lost his life serving in Iraq in 2004. Continuing this theme, the recent round of construction culminated most notably in the erection of a blackboard “Remembrance Wall,” intended for chalk messages of reflection and healing. Unfortunately, not long after its unveiling, it was quickly defiled with all sorts of inappropriate and vulgar messages. This reflects extraordinarily poorly on the student body, and our community needs to be far more mindful of our actions.
Even though the garden’s unveiling was well publicized, and the name of the space invokes solemn maturity, when left unguarded people nevertheless treated the space like immature middle schoolers might treat an unattended white board. The problem was so prevalent that Student Council found it necessary to put out a sign specifying for messages to be put on the wall. To be fair, many of the errant messages were relatively benign, publicizing events and Contracted Independent Organizations or consisting of meaningless scribbles. This misunderstanding, while relatively reasonable, is at the very least disappointing, due to the negligence of the authors.
On the other hand, the vulgar, brash and obscene messages that peppered the wall are absolutely unacceptable. Even if the chalkboard did not have the special meaning of remembrance and mourning associated with it, the profanity and immaturity on display would still be disheartening. However, the special symbolism and underlying significance of the wall makes these vulgar transgressions particularly offensive. It is unbecoming of any decent person, much less fully grown adult students, to participate in such thoughtless behavior.
Moving forward, perhaps the new guidelines will encourage more thoughtfulness when writing on the Remembrance Wall. Nevertheless, it is discouraging that the signs were needed in the first place. Hopefully we will come to treat the sacred space with the respect it deserves. Until then, we as a community need to do better.