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Lamont Graffiti Enlightens, Confuses

By Malka A. Older and Elizabeth S. Zuckerman

Call it self-expression.

All over Lamont Library, students scribble their frustrations onto desktops, walls and anything else that doesn't move.

Testimonies to the trauma of studying appear prominently in the jumble of graffiti. "Exams truly suck," reads one. "Harvard sucks," says another. And, there's the more specific gripe, "I hate Lamont."

Other students have planted messages of hope ("15 more months"), questions of identity ("Does anybody see me?"), self-affirmations ("I studied here 4/7/96") and random bits of aggression ("Fuck all y'all").

Sex, unsurprisingly, also figures high on the list of topics which students address in their desktop musings. A debate over the sexual prowess of various ethnic groups dominates one corner.

Then, of course, there lies the truly inexplicable. "I love bikini wax" and "I love tube socks" announces one wall.

However, a more intimate dialogue takes place in an obscure corner away from the public forum of the main floor desktops: the women's bathroom.

Unlike the free-for-all of the desktop social critics, Lamont's bathroom commentators seem more directed.

On an unpainted board in a fourth floor stall, women respond to each other's questions.

"Question: I'm bi but send out 'straight' signals," declares one mark of graffiti. "How do I meet women?"

In spite of one glib reply ("Answer: Eat a ham sandwich under a bridge Thursdays between 4-4:30. Women will come."), one restroom visitor took the time to consider the question at length.

She posted five suggestions in response, setting off a serious extended conversation on morality and tolerance.

"I know more 'out' men than I do women. Why?" asks one bathroom patron.

In a conversation about politically correct terms, one scribbler asks, "What do black people prefer now?"

"African-Am., Afro-Am., black," suggests the response.

Is this the latest arena for discussing questions of social importance?

Research conducted in four Lamont bathrooms--two men's and two women's--reveals that the lower level facilities do not boast the same abundance of social commentary.

Regardless, high-brow graffiti appears to be more prevalent in women's bathrooms.

Men's restrooms fail to offer more than the occasional sexual proposition or non sequitur ("a lesbian was here").

All comments are unanswered.

Nevertheless, the level of discussion on Lamont bathroom walls is surprisingly elevated. As one student commented in the women's restroom, "I never knew Harvard students had these kinds of profound toilet conversations!"

--Douglas M. Pravda contributed to the reporting of this article

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