Tales from the Archive: The Big Debate: Graffiti at Reed, 1980-2021

Graffiti at Reed has been a contentious debate for the past four decades amongst both students and faculty. Some have viewed it as a valuable expression of free speech and student autonomy. Others have considered its presence a nuisance, one that degrades the college’s quality and reputation. Most of Reed’s graffiti has taken on a political bent, though at times it has purely been comical. From the 1980s till now the Reed College Quest has been the primary arbiter between those in support and those against graffiti. 

The debates surrounding graffiti in the 1980s were varied, with one article from November 14, 1984, decrying its existence due to its obscene nature. While the author acknowledges that graffiti on campus can be humorous, she critiques its occasional breach into problematic territory. On one such occasion, a student wrote on a bicycle ad that “Women shouldn’t ride bikes anyway.” We can all agree this is a poor use of ink, especially in an era when women’s rights were increasingly threatened. This was the 80s, when Ronald Reagan and the nascent Evangelical right were becoming increasingly powerful, and along with them came attacks on women’s reproductive rights. In 1987, another article, “Metaphysical Graffiti”, praised graffiti’s prevalence. Written in response to the erasure of graffiti by other students and campus services, the author argues that graffiti at Reed is unique when compared to “regular outside of Reed graffiti” insofar as it is creative, witty, and intellectual. Hence, “graffiti at Reed [should not be] thought of as defacing property so much as an anonymous forum for the expression of a diverse number of views”.

The article then discusses how different departments at Reed have their own brand of graffiti, like the Chemistry department’s graffiti which featured a chemical formula to make “Five-Pronged Werewolf Slayer.” Instead of erasing graffiti, the author argues it should be preserved and designated to particular spaces. 

The 1990s brought about an era in which students were much less keen on graffiti’s ubiquity. This is, in part, due to dramatic increases in graffiti and general vandalism which occurred at the school during the era. The debate hit its peak in the late 1990s, with 1997 featuring almost monthly articles on graffiti’s prevalence. In February of that year, one article claimed that “graffiti as a means of social expression is tantamount to ethical cowardice insofar as the accountable party does not take responsibility for his/her viewpoints”. This was in response to the defacing of the new commons, which had recently been renovated. Another article published the same year, “Are We Gettin More Destructive?”, presented various arguments for why Reedies are “more destructive” than they once were, and argued that graffiti is the most obvious example of this increase in destructive habits.

Another hypothesis for the rise in graffiti was the closure of Commons’ lower level, a space traditionally used for student activities, which had the dual purpose of serving as a “natural outlet” for destructiveness on campus. Additionally, the lower level of commons was apparently used as a “sexual clearinghouse for the campus,” and because of its closure, students “have taken their excess sexual tension and channeled it into destroying the campus”. Another theory for the rise in graffiti is an increased number of students who are “volatile drunks and addicts [who] roam the campus,” who in their inebriated states wreak havoc on Reed’s infrastructure. While these are all compelling theories, the prevalence of graffiti certainly has not abated and continues to this day.

Graffiti at Reed in the twenty-first century has remained a staple of the SU and in campus bathroom stalls, and the occasional monumental design can be found on the side of buildings. To this day, both graffiti’s presence and its erasure by campus services is still being debated, with 2020 being a particularly controversial year due to the country’s political environment. While most graffiti has been tame, there have certainly been instances where graffiti has been used in harmful ways. If you want to see more pictures check out our digital collections, or visit special collections and archives, or email us at archives@reed.edu.

Tales from the Archive: Divestment and the Occupation of Eliot Hall

In a recent email to the campus community, President Audrey Bilger and Chairman of the Board of Trustees Roger Perlmutter declared that Reed would “prohibit any new investments in public funds or private partnerships that are focused on the oil, gas, and coal industries, including infrastructure and field services… [and] phase out all such existing investments in private partnerships in accordance with the funds’ typical life cycles.”

Bilger and Perlmutter acknowledged the efforts of student organizations like Greenboard and Fossil Free Reed in the Board’s decision to divest—but did you know that the history of student organizing for divestment goes as far back as the 1980s? The first big push for selective investment at Reed was driven by increasing concern about the South African apartheid state.

February 1985

The Reed College Quest published a special issue on apartheid, in which the editorial board took an official stance in favor of full divestment of college funds from companies doing business in South Africa. According to the Quest’s estimate, approximately $4.296 million of Reed’s endowment was invested in corporations with ties to the apartheid regime. The Quest editors argued that these investments made the college complicit in the exploitation of Black South Africans. In the following weeks, Quest editor Christopher Phelps and several other students organized the South African Concerns Committee (SACC), and started devising strategies to push the college’s administration toward divestment.

October 1985

SACC held its first mass demonstration, a non-disruptive protest in Eliot Hall. Not long after, SACC presented a petition to the Trustees that demonstrated over 50% of the college community favored full divestment. During the Trustees’ October meeting, the board chose to defer their decision to January 1986. In response, twenty-five students, unsupported by SACC, occupied Bragdon’s office in protest. Their attempts at negotiation with Dean of Students Susan Crimm were unsuccessful, and occupiers left the office after fifty-two hours.

January 1986

Bragdon delivered the college’s official statement on divestment: Reed would maintain its current investment portfolio, to the extent that it followed the Sullivan Principles**. In response, approximately one hundred students immediately took control of Eliot Hall, blocked all access to non-students, and demanded that the Trustees vote in support of full divestment and create more democratic financial decision-making structures. The use of barricades and unarmed guards at Eliot Hall’s entrances made the demonstration far more controversial than any prior SACC or divestment-related protests.

February 1986

The occupation of Eliot ended when occupiers reached an agreement with Bragdon and Crimm to establish a joint student-Trustee committee to deliberate on divestment and other issues of importance to the student body. Three other students levied an honor case against the occupiers, and argued that they had caused harm to the community by disrupting access to classrooms, the financial aid office, and other important spaces in Eliot. The Judicial Board decided that the occupiers were in violation of the honor principle.

Late 1980s

SACC renamed itself Reed Out of Africa and continued to push for full divestment, but was unsuccessful. Several students occupied the development office in Eliot Hall, but found that the administration was far less willing to attempt negotiation with them than before and received suspensions. Following Bragdon’s departure from the college in 1988, the issue died down.

Interested in learning more about the history of divestment efforts at Reed? Email us at archives@reed.edu, or visit our website!

* Divestment refers to the selective selling-off of business interests and investments, in compliance with set ethical demands. Apartheid divestment campaigns ranged from calls for divestment from companies that directly profited from the exploitation of Black South Africans (known as “partial divestment”), to companies that did any business in South Africa whatsoever (“full divestment”). While divestment has limited efficacy when it comes to placing financial pressure on companies and institutions, its modern proponents argue that it creates a moral stigma around unethical industries and labor practices. 

** The Sullivan Principles were first published in 1977 by Reverend Leon H. Sullivan. They urged global “corporate social responsibility” through a set of seven principles intended to promote equal-opportunity employment practices. Over time Rev. Sullivan became increasingly disillusioned by their ability to effect social change, and by October 1985, he issued an ultimatum in an interview with New Yorker Magazine: “If apartheid is not abolished in actuality [within the next two years], all foreign corporations should leave [South Africa]. This should be followed by a total ban on all imports and exports.”

Works Cited

  • Byshenk, Greg, Lynn Decker, and Michael Ames Conner. “Recent Topical History in Several Parts.” Reed College Student Handbook, August 7 1989.
  • Kahn, E.J. “Sullivan Redux.” New Yorker Magazine, October 7 1985.
  • Phelps, Christopher. “Reed and Apartheid.” The Reed College Quest, February 5 1985.
  • Sullivan, Leon H. 1984. “The Global Sullivan Principles.” University of Minnesota Human Rights Library. http://hrlibrary.umn.edu/links/sullivanprinciples.html

Exhibit: Race, Politics, and Women’s Rights: Visions of a New United States

Many have already heard of The Liberator, the 19th-century abolitionist newspaper created by William Lloyd Garrison. However, a new magazine under the same name emerged in the twentieth century. First published in the spring of 1918, the twentieth century Liberator continued the fight for equality: it focused on worker’s rights, women’s rights, and promoted socialism as an alternative to capitalism.

During World War One, the Wilson administration passed the 1917 Espionage Act and the 1918 Sedition Act. The legislation prohibited subversive speech that critiqued the draft, the Constitution, or the United States government.1 Subsequently, the U.S. government shut down socialist political magazine The Masses and prosecuted its editor Max Eastman.2 With the magazine effectively terminated by the U.S. government, Eastman and his sister Crystal founded The Liberator to succeed the defunct Masses.

The Eastmans were an accomplished pair of American activists. Crystal Eastman (b.1881-d.1928) was a labor lawyer, suffragist, socialist, and journalist who worked with her brother (as a co-editor) on the socialist magazine The Liberator. Much of Eastman’s journalistic work focused on the suffrage movement and workers’ rights in the early twentieth century. In 1917, before The Liberator’s creation, Crystal Eastman and other activists established the National Civil Liberties Bureau, which later became the ACLU, to fight government repression of dissenters’ rights during the First World War.3 Eastman is also credited with co-founding the Congressional Union in 1913 (later known as the National Woman’s Party) and supported the Equal Rights Amendment of 1923, a proposed amendment to eliminate federal and state laws that discriminate against women.4 

Max Eastman (b.1883-d.1969) was a poet, editor of The Masses and the Liberator, and a prominent socialist and women’s rights activist in the early twentieth century. In 1910 he and other activists founded the Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage.5 Despite his professed belief in men and women’s equality, critics have noted a majority of The Liberator’s articles on women’s issues were written by men. Around 1 January 1922, Eastman passed his editorial position down to literary critic Floyd Dell. Under Dell’s supervision, the magazine’s focus shifted from politics to arts and culture.

First published in the Spring of 1918, a reader could pick up an issue of the  magazine for twenty cents and read about the American labor movement, reports from post-war Europe, and John Reed’s reporting from the USSR. Political art and poetry fleshed out the remainder of the magazine. Contributors included prominent writers such as Claude McKay, a Jamaican-born poet and key figure in the Harlem Renaissance. 

Born Festus Claudius Mckay (b.1889-d.1948), McKay was one of the most important poets of the Harlem Renaissance. His work ranged from vernacular verses celebrating Jamaica to poems that protested racial and economic inequality.6 

In 1912, using a stipend he earned from the Jamaican Institute of Arts and Sciences, McKay left Jamaica for college in the United States. He attended Tuskegee Institute for two months before transferring to Kansas State College. In 1914 McKay departed college for New York City. His experiences with racism in the United States encouraged him to continue writing poetry.7 

In 1919, McKay met and befriended Max Eastman, who later hired McKay as co-editor for The Liberator in 1921: a position McKay would maintain until 1922.8 McKay published several poems in The Liberator, most notably the enthralling poem If We Must Die.9 The poem was first published in the July 1919 issue of The Liberator and republished in several magazines.10 The poem’s publication date is significant as 1919 was one of the most tumultuous years of the twentieth century. There was the Influenza A pandemic, workers unrest, and the Red Summer. If We Must Die was a direct response to news of the race riots that spread across the United States. According to Juliana Spahr’s analysis of the poem, “Claude McKay’s If We Must Die is the poem of this moment, one that captured the zeitgeist as if McKay were a prophet, and not a mere writer.”11 

Along with politics, the magazine’s visual material included a variety of illustrations and cartoons contributed by artists such as Cornelia Barns, William Gropper, and Art Young. 

Born in Philadelphia in 1888, Cornelia Barns was an American illustrator and suffragette. She began contributing illustrations to Eastman’s first magazine, The Masses, in 1914. Barns was one of a  few women who played a significant part in the creation of The Masses. In 1917, Barns moved with her family to California with her husband and child. Committed to radical political and social change, Barns continued to provide art to The Liberator, New Masses, and Suffragist after moving to California.12 

One of Barns’ most notable covers for The Liberator, Strike!, depicts women from the International Garment Workers Union who, in 1919, went on strike for a 44-hour work-week in New York.13 Inside the magazine one could learn more: “Our Cover design, drawn by Cornelia Barns, will carry to readers all over the country something of the spirit with which Local 25 of the International Garment Workers is conducting its strike for the 44 hour-week in New York. Eighty-five percent of the strikers are girls. Of the 35,000 who went out on January 21st, 23,000 have already won their terms and gone back to work. The rest are sticking it out magnificently.”14

Contributions from famous American cartoonists Art Young and William Gropper cemented The Liberator’s status as an influential socialist magazine within New York’s publishing scene. Art Young (b.1866-d.1943) was an American illustrator and activist in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In 1884 he moved to Chicago and studied art and supported himself by drawing newspaper cartoons. In 1903 he moved to New York, and worked as an illustrator for The Masses. After the magazine’s suppression by the U.S. government, Young worked with the Eastmans to produce artwork for The Liberator until the magazine was merged with other left-wing publications to form Workers Monthly in 1924.15

William Gropper was another illustrator who contributed his art to The Liberator. The son of Jewish immigrants, Gropper took art courses as a teenager at an experimental socialist school. After winning awards for his drawings, Gropper took a job with the New York Tribune. His supervisors at the tribune fired him when they discovered his left-wing political connections.16 

By 1922, The Liberator achieved a circulation of 60,000 readers, but Max Eastman desired to shift focus towards book writing and left for the Soviet Union.17 When finances became an issue later that year, the Communist Party of America (CPA) moved in for a friendly takeover. The political party worked with Eastman, Dell, and other writers for the transition. By fall 1922, the magazine became an official organ of the CPA, and political content returned to the foreground.18 

In 1924 The Liberator was merged with other magazines to form a new publication, Workers Monthly. The magazine would change names again to The Communist in 1927 until settling on the title Political Affairs in 1946.19 

To learn more about The Liberator, visit the Special Collections and Archives exhibit, Race, Politics, and Women’s Rights: Visions of a New United States, curated by Nick Campigli, on the library’s main level across from the reference desk. Or, email archives@reed.edu to schedule an appointment with Reed Special Collections and Archives.

To learn more about The Liberator’s contributors, see the book Crystal Eastman: A Revolutionary Life, or view our catalog of Claude McKay’s literature.

  1. Daniel G Donalson, The Espionage and Sedition Acts of World War I Using Wartime Loyalty Laws for Revenge and Profit (El Paso: LFB Scholarly Pub., 2012), http://site.ebrary.com/id/10610281, 2-3.
  2. “Max Forrester Eastman (1883-1969) | American Experience | PBS,” accessed October 13, 2021, https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/goldman-max-forrester-eastman-1883-1969/.
  3. “Crystal Eastman,” American Civil Liberties Union, accessed October 28, 2021, https://www.aclu.org/other/crystal-eastman.
  4. “Crystal Eastman | American Lawyer, Writer, Activist,” Encyclopedia Britannica, accessed October 13, 2021, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Crystal-Eastman.
  5. “Max Forrester Eastman (1883-1969) | American Experience | PBS.”
  6. Poetry Foundation, “Claude McKay,” text/html, Poetry Foundation, October 13, 2021, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/claude-mckay.
  7. Ibid.
  8. “Claude M’Kay, African Poet. Made Co-Editor” The Chicago Defender, accessed October 13, 2021, https://www.proquest.com/docview/491882707?accountid=13475&forcedol=true.
  9. “The Liberator, July 1919,” The Liberator, accessed October 13, 2021, http://dlib.nyu.edu/liberator/books/lib000020/, 21.
  10.  “‘Our Precious Blood May Not Be Shed’ | Claude McKay,” Lapham’s Quarterly, accessed October 14, 2021, https://www.laphamsquarterly.org/roundtable/our-precious-blood-may-not-be-shed.
  11. Juliana Spahr, “Hearing the Pandemic in Claude McKay’s ‘If We Must Die,’” PMLA 136, no. 2 (March 2021): 254–57, https://doi.org/10.1632/S0030812921000158.
  12. “Barns, Cornelia Baxter (1888–1941) | Encyclopedia.Com,” accessed October 13, 2021, https://www.encyclopedia.com/women/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/barns-cornelia-baxter-1888-1941.
  13. “GARMENT WORKERS ORDERED TO STRIKE; Union Calls Upon 35,000 Members to Quit Their Employment At 10 o’Clock This Morning. APPEAL FOR GOOD ORDER Right to Discharge at Issue–Demands Include 44-Hour Weekend Advance in Wages.,” accessed October 15, 2021, http://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1919/01/21/97060727.html?pageNumber=22.
  14. “The Liberator, April 1919,” The Liberator, accessed October 13, 2021, http://dlib.nyu.edu/liberator/books/lib000016/, 2. 
  15. “Art Young,” accessed October 14, 2021, https://academic.eb.com/?target=%2Flevels%2Fcollegiate%2Farticle%2FArt-Young%2F78052.
  16. “William Gropper | Smithsonian American Art Museum,” accessed October 14, 2021, https://americanart.si.edu/artist/william-gropper-1957.
  17. Paul Buhle, Marxism in the United States: Remapping the History of the American Left (London: Verso, 1987), 172.
  18. “The Liberator.”
  19. Ibid.

Dancing with Reedies: Reed Balls in the Twentieth Century

Reed’s dance culture has long been an avenue for the student body to build, strengthen, and maintain community. Before Covid, and hopefully after, Reed students organized balls (dances) on campus throughout the academic year. These balls allow the student community to connect, share information, and build relationships across grade levels. 

Today, these dances choose a band, a subculture, or a special event as their theme. For example, during the Reed dance “Theme Reveal,” students gather to learn what the Renn Fayre theme will be that year. Reed Special Collections and Archives has collected three photos that depict this long-standing tradition throughout the twentieth century.

Students Dressed for a Costume Dance, 1915

The first picture, from 1915, shows two couples dressed for a costume dance in the old Reed gymnasium. The picture was taken from the scrapbook of alumni Lindsley Ross ’15 and was donated to the Reed College archive by his widow. The dance was described as a “fancy dress ball” where students dressed in formal Georgian attire.

Student Dance Party, 1937

The second picture was taken in 1937 and was donated by alumni Mary Jackson Gibson ‘39 from a scrapbook. The photo shows the 1937 Story-Book dance. The Amanda Reed Association, a women’s organization named after Amanda Reed whose estate founded the college, sponsored the event. 

In the photo, female students paired off to dance with one another. In the background, other students watch on. The location of the Story-Book dance is unknown, but the dance may likely have taken place in the school gymnasium or Student Union.

Halloween Party, 1980s

The Reed student community’s long-running love of dances continued through the twentieth century. However, they became increasingly less formal as time went on. The third picture is from a donation of several photos taken by alumni Larry Clarkberg ‘87, who took this photograph for the Reed College Quest, Reed’s student-run newspaper. The photo displays students at a Halloween party in the Student Union building on campus. The six students in the photo’s foreground are dressed as members of the Village People and are most likely singing the song “YMCA.” 

Reed’s dances build ties between different grade levels and act as a part of the foundation for Reed College’s student community. If you want to learn more about Reed dance culture, please visit our digital collections or email the archives at archives@reed.edu.

Hidden Histories of Race & Reed

New exhibit! “Hidden Histories of Race & Reed”, developed and curated by Ashley San Miguel and Maya Arigala, opened in the second floor Eliot Hall display cases Friday December 13th.

Flyer for exhibit. Black and white photograph of Reed students protesting outside of Eliot Hall with signs. Flyer text reads: "Exhibit unveiling: hidden histories of race & Reed. Join us at the second floor Eliot display cases! December 13th Drop in between 5pm-7pm. Reception in Eliot 216, food will be provided. Vegan & GF options. Sponsored by: social justice fund, library archives, office for institutional diversity. Email ashsanmic@reed.edu or arigalam@reed.edu with questions."

This exhibit uses items from the Reed College Archives to chart the 1968 Black Student Union (BSU) protests to install a Black Studies Center at Reed, and the subsequent rise and dissolution of the center just a few years later.

Black and white photograph of Reed students protesting outside of Eliot Hall with signs. The photograph is the same as used in the event flyer.
Black Studies Demonstration, Eliot Hall 1968. Photograph by Stephen S. Robinson, class of 1972.

Reed College Canyon: new digital collection now available!

We are excited to announce a new RDC resource: the Reed College Canyon collection!

The images in this collection were largely created by Canyon Restoration Manager Zac Perry to document the Canyon from about 1999 to the present. The Reed Canyon was declared a wildlife refuge by the state of Oregon in 1913, and restoration efforts began in 1999. “Restoration goals include improving diversity of wildlife, managing invasive plant species, restoring native plant communities, and increase potential habitat for salmon and other resident fish.” (https://www.reed.edu/canyon/visit.html)

Also included in this collection are photographs of Canyon Day, images created by Canyon student employees and visitors, as well as pre-1999 photographs from the Reed College Archives.

This collection is open to current Reed students, faculty, and staff.

Questions? Contact Laura Buchholz or Zac Perry.

Portland Muslim History Project archives collection now available in RDC!

We’re excited to announce our most recent addition to Reed Digital Collections: selections from the Portland Muslim History Project archive, recently donated to Special Collections and Archives by Reed College professor Dr. Kambiz GhaneaBassiri.

View the Portland Muslim History Project archive in Reed Digital Collections

The 2004 Portland Muslim History Project narrated the history of Muslim built communities in Portland, Oregon. Its aim was to contribute to scholarship on Islam and American religions by exploring how Islam becomes rooted in a local American context.

Archiving the records of this project, as well as the digital collection, is a part of a larger effort led by Dr. GhaneaBassiri, local historian Johanna Ogden, and Multnomah County archivist Terry Baxter to archive the history of Muslims in Oregon. The Oregon Historical Society, Portland State University, and Oregon State University have all played roles in this larger project.

A finding aid for the entire archive donated to Special Collections and Archives will be available in the near future. The digital collection is open to the public.

The Portland Muslim History Project digital collection is the product of a collaboration between Dr. GhaneaBassiri and Special Collections and Archives. Reed College religion majors Tehniyat Naveed and Delainey Myers were indispensable in making this project a reality.

Questions about this collection, or about Reed Digital Collections? Please write to rdc@lists.reed.edu.

Reed Student Publications


April 6 – June 1, 2018
Flat cases and wall case by the Reference Desk

In many ways, the types of publications Reed students choose to produce are indicative of much larger social trends at the college and beyond. The newest exhibit from the Archives and Special Collections, “Student Publications at Reed” takes a look at the ways students have used pamphlets, comic books, journals, fliers and more as a media by which to process their world. Take a look through a few, and you might just get a glimpse of Reed of yesteryear…

Quest newspaper digital collection now available

We’re excited to announce our most recent addition to Reed Digital Collections: digitized issues of The Quest newspaper, beginning with the first issue in 1913. The collection is open to current Reed students, faculty, and staff.

Check out a sampler of Quest mastheads below to get you started!

 

An Identity Crises: Images of Dissent at Reed, 1966-1972

Like any institution, Reed College has always been shaped by the individuals who care about it most. Founded out of Progressive Era ideals, Reed’s early years were fueled by a desire to reject the status quo of other institutions. This Reedie way of life, however, was not always interpreted in the same way. In the 1960s Reed was beginning to undergo an ideological schism between the Old Guard, Reed’s established faculty and administrators, and the Young Turks, the younger, often un-tenured faculty. This exhibit and corresponding website uses items from the college archives to give an overview of Reed’s identity crisis and the global issues which pitted the young thinkers against the status quo.

The exhibit runs from December 8th 2017- February 1st, 2018. Curated by Emily Jane Clark, Social Justice Exhibits and Research Intern.

See the online exhibit here (http://blogs.reed.edu/an-identity-crisis/)