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

2020 Census talk with Se-ah-dom Edom of We Count Oregon

SEEDS, We Count Oregon, and the Reed Library collaborated to create a series of videos to discuss the 2020 Census with We Count Oregon, whose primary focus is to enumerate folks from hard to count communities. Check out the videos:

About Se-ah-dom Edmo

Se-ah-dom Edmo is Shoshone-Bannock, Nez Perce & Yakama, she has joined the #WeCountOregon team as the Tribal Community Coordinator. She brings deep experience in community organizing for racial and social justice work across the nation. She is co-editor of the Tribal Equity Toolkit 3.0: Tribal Resolutions and Codes for Two-Spirit and LGBT Justice in Indian Country and American Indian Identity: Citizenship, Membership & Blood. Prior to joining the #WeCountOregon campaign, she served as the Sovereignty Program Director at Western States Center where she was the coalition convener of Tribal History: Shared History (Senate Bill 13, 2017) in Oregon – this law established and funded teaching of Indian History and Sovereignty in K – 12 Schools across the state. A hallmark of her career has been fostering relationships and collaborations between tribes and organizations that do social, racial, environmental, and economic justice work across the region. She is currently a member of the Steering Committee of Oregon Recovers and is an ALF Senior Fellow. She lives in Portland with her husband James and their children Siale, Imasees and Miyosiwin, as well as her parents, Ed and Carol Edmo. Se-ah-dom’s ancestors are from Celilo, a fishing village along the Columbia River and one of the oldest known settlements in the West.

Echoes of Harlem

There’s a time travel portal next to the reference desk.

1920s and 1930s Harlem NYC was a time when African American arts and culture flourished. Jazz music from Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong could be heard floating from Harlem nightclubs. Painters such as Jacob Lawrence and Archibald Motley chronicled the daily lives of African Americans.

It was also a politically and racially charged time in US history. If you walked down 5th Avenue you might see a black flag hanging from the NAACP office that proclaimed “A MAN WAS LYNCHED YESTERDAY” in bold white lettering.

Whether you’re interested in Harlem Renaissance aesthetic, culture, or politics, our book display has something for you. Come discover a good read and learn about the Echoes of Harlem that still reverberate throughout NYC and the USA today.

All items available for checkout!

Save the date: Algorithms of Oppression

Join us for Black Celebration Month: Algorithms of Oppression

Thursday February 20, 2020 at 6:30pm Vollum Lecture Hall

Safiya Umoja Noble is an associate professor at the University of California, Los Angeles in the departments of information studies and African American studies. She is also co-director of the UCLA Center for Critical Internet Inquiry. Safiya is the author of a best-selling book on algorithmic discrimination by internet platforms, Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism. 

Dr. Safiya Umoja Noble

She is the recipient of a Hellman Fellowship and the UCLA Early Career Award. She is regularly quoted for her expertise about technology bias in society in news outlets including The Guardian, the BBC, CNN International, USA Today, Wired, Time, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, The New York Times, NPR’s Marketplace, CBS Radio, and is the co-editor of The Intersectional Internet: Race, Sex, Culture and Class Online and Emotions, Technology & Design. She holds a PhD and MS from the Information School at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a BA in sociology from California State University, Fresno.

Noble’s talk will be followed by a reception in the Library.

Co-sponsored by the library, the Office of Institutional Diversity, the Dean of the Faculty, the department of computer science, and the office of Computing and Information Services. Free and open to the public.

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.

Search everything! (in Reed Digital Collections)

We’re excited to share a new feature in Reed Digital Collections: the ability to search across collections! Want to see all items relating to the traditional game of tug of war between Reed first years and sophomores? You’ll now be able to easily search both the digitized photos from archives and the Quest newspaper collection! Or maybe you need images of a frog for an art project? You can now find them in the Art & Architecture collection, the Canyon Collection, and more, all in one search.

Be sure to sign in for full results, and happy searching! Let us know what you think at rdc@groups.reed.edu

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…