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Graffiti Strikes Campus Community

by: Deidre Pipher
March 1999

Graffiti sightings that appeared on UWO campus in the summer have subsided – at least for now says University Police Constable Wendy McGowan.

McGowan says that although there have been no recurrences, there also have been no arrests and so students should still be aware of the issue and take the proper safety precautions.

"It did not go any further but there may still be a risk. It just has not surfaced yet. It will always be a risk because we haven’t identified who did it."

The slogans, which appeared on bathroom and tunnel walls and in the hallways of several buildings, depicted women in a violent and degrading manner. The violent connotations of the graffiti led to the Western Foot Patrol being run during the summer. This program is usually in effect for the fall and winter terms.

She also says that it is circumstances like this that show just how important it is to always maintain a high safety code on campus.

"It was very much an awareness issue to always maintain and be progressive when it comes to safety on campus. It makes us aware of how vulnerable we can be."

Claudia Philipsz, Women’s Issues Network Coordinator and Chair of Media Watch, says that there is more to be concerned about than just words.

"Most people think it’s just graffiti and it’s no big deal. They don’t realize that words can hurt just as much as physical actions." Words can instill fear and this can have a damaging impact on women’s lives. Women begin to limit their activities to certain times of day and geographical areas. A 1994 Statistics Canada Survey (Violence Against Women survey) found that 12% of Canadian women are afraid to go out alone and a significant portion of women also avoid going to certain places at certain times. Continuum theory is a model for understanding the links between hateful words at one end of a continuum of violence with acts of physical violence at the other end. Hateful words and physical violence are highly inter-related and this link gives graffiti its power to harm. Graffiti is therefore an act of violence.

Women are not the only targets of violent graffiti. Other marginalized groups can also be the targets of such hate material. Whether the writing is sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, or racist, or discriminatory in any other way, the impact is always detrimental.

Graffiti can contribute to the creation of unwelcoming and unsafe environments through the reinforcement of damaging stereotypes. The violent nature of graffiti further sends out a threat. Graffiti may often reflect deeply held yet unspoken beliefs of the dominant culture about those members of groups considered "outsiders". On a campus such as Western, this has the power to divide a diverse community working to end discrimination.

McGowan warns students to always be responsible, yet stresses that safety at Western is top notch. She praises the Western safety program, stating that it has become a model for other universities. "I know that some individuals who work in similar fields look towards Western as being very progressive."

Fiona Hart, Western’s Equity Services Officer, agrees saying she is very impressed with the safety programs at the university. She says, however, that they will always be striving to achieve higher goals.

"We haven’t yet achieved all our goals. There are areas that need improvement, including an emphasis on prevention that begins with perpetrators rather than focusing on victims. Maintaining a safe campus is an ongoing process."

One area she wishes to see expanded is the awareness of acquaintance related crime. She says that the downside of over-reporting such crimes as graffiti is that it reinforces the myth of "stranger danger". And, she says, although students should be aware of this, they should also be conscious of acquaintance crime such as date rape. Crimes do sometimes occur at night when, for example, a woman is walking alone, she says, but most assaults against women occur within the context of interpersonal violence. Only 9% of all women in Canada are murdered by a stranger, compared to 39% spouse or ex-spouse, 23% friend or acquaintance, 13% other intimate partner, and 18% family member (Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Homicide Survey, 1995). Educational programs already in effect, such as STRIVE, do focus on the interpersonal nature of much violence. At the same time, graffiti contributes to myths and stereotypes which reinforce acquaintance crimes.

So, what do you do if you see any offensive graffiti? First of all, don’t erase it. It may provide important evidence. Second, be sure to immediately report the graffiti to UPD (661-3333) or Equity Services (661-3334). And should you experience any difficult emotions as a result of the graffiti, please contact the Student Development Centre or Student Health Services for confidential counselling.

Both McGowan and Hart agree that safety on Western campus is a top priority. Recently McGowan incorporated new safety initiatives that include the BoxFit aerobics class and a Marshall Arts program. She says it is programs like these that get students involved in their own safety.

"Students need interactive programs where they feel comfortable, where they learn something, and where they enjoy it."

Other safety initiatives include the Blue Emergency Lights surrounding the campus, a Responsible Drinking Program, STRIVE, Student Emergency Response Team, Campus Watch Program, and an affiliation agreement with London/Middlesex Crime Stoppers. The President’s Committee on the Safety of Women on Campus also hosts a web site – – where students can find information and links to other resources. Media Watch also has a web site at



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