VES Thesis Buried Under Opposition

Victoria L. Merriman '98, a visual and environmental studies (VES) concentrator in Dunster House, finds herself in a rare predicament: She has completed her thesis, a video performance entitled "Burial," but may not be able to perform it.

Merriman's project--which she described as an "exploration of afterlife and the process of mourning"--requires the excavation of a large hole. It was originally intended to take place in either the Radcliffe or Malkin Athletic Center (MAC) Quad on May 2 during the Art First Festival.

That is, until she ran into opposition from the masters of the residential houses surrounding these two locations.

"From the outset, they've resisted my efforts without good reason," said Merriman, asserting that the masters of Lowell, Winthrop, Eliot, Kirkland, Cabot, Pforzheimer and Currier Houses have taken an irrational "not-in-my-backyard approach."

This leaves Merriman--who over the past 12 months has enlisted the services of 50 people, including 12 undergraduates, and invested $5,000 in grant money as well as her own funds--without a place to perform a project which is supposed to be the culmination of her four years at Harvard.

For their part, the masters of the Houses surrounding the Radcliffe and MAC Quads diverge in their explanations for refusing Merriman permission to use their respective spaces.

In a joint e-mail massage to Merriman dated April 17, masters William A. Graham of Currier House, James J. McCarthy of Pforzheimer House and James H. Ware of Cabot House expressed their concern that the recent suicide of Cabot house resident David matter of her piece--which emphasizes death andinternment--"not something that anyone here feelsis helpful."

Ware reiterated the anxieties of his fellowmasters in an interview last night.

"It is so recently in the house that we've hadthe death of a student that I am concerned theQuad may not be an appropriate place at this timefor a piece emphasizing death," said Ware, whostressed that he was speaking for himself.

Merriman said she tried to allay the concernsof the Quad masters, whose common space was herfirst choice, by explaining that she treats deathsensitively in the piece.

"It's all about mourning and grieving, so whatcould be more appropriate?" she said.

In their own e-mail message to Merriman datedApril 16, the masters of house surrounding the MACQuad justified their rejection of her requestalong more use-specific lines saying, "We want topreserve it for use as play and picnic area."

Elaborating on this point, Eliot Master SteveA. Mitchell said he was opposed to "a public spacebeing used for a private purpose."

Merriman dismissed Mitchell's concern, citingsupport for her project from several UndergraduateCouncil members as well as many other studentgroups.

"The students are the people using that space,so it really makes no sense that if studentssupport this project [the house masters] can usethat as a reason," Merriman said.