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‘Express Yo Self’ space painted over after obscene content

After staff complaints about drawings and writings that created a hostile work environment, the “Express Yo Self” space on the first floor of Goldfarb Library outside of the elevators has been painted over, University Librarian Matthew Sheehy told The Hoot in an interview.

The images were drawings of two nude figures depicted in different scenes that Sheehy described as “predatory,” objectifying of women and violent. Also on the wall was hate speech that Sheehy described as demonstrating a hostile bias. The author or authors of the drawings and the writings are unknown.

“It was the culmination of these drawings that objectified women and there was a series of this hate language,” said Sheehy. “I don’t know if it was the same person but the same tone was being replicated… it was starting to show up repetitively.”

Sheehy made the decision to paint over the walls Wednesday, Sept. 26 after a small handful of staff members complained at the beginning of that week. The walls were painted Thursday and Friday Sept. 27 and 28. The project has been paused and Sheehy has been in contact with Provost Lisa Lynch about the situation. Sheehy emphasized that he is open to input from the students about what to do about the space.

“I had an environment at work that was deemed hostile,” Sheehy said. Posters were put up after the walls were painted over saying that the pilot was being paused pending a conversation with Lynch. There has been no formal Human Resources report filed about the incident.

Sheehy spoke about the recent change in tone of the art on the wall. “It was only in the past few months that there were images that started to become violent in nature that objectified women and became predatory,” he said. “Not only is that not appropriate for students to be walking by… we’re also here for staff and faculty and some were finding it a very hostile work environment to have to see that objectification, that sort of predatory imagery.”

The “Express Yo Self” space was started by Marcelo Brociner ’18 as a place for students to write or draw on the walls. It was a pilot project that began in 2015 after Brociner painted a mural in a men’s bathroom near Farber library and was contacted by library staff about the possible project.

The space is usually painted over every six months, and photos are taken of the grafiti and saved to the university archives. Comments that were directed at individual students, such as comments that called a student out by name, were usually removed. Photos were not taken of the entire space before it was painted over this time, though Sheehy tried to schedule a photographer.

Sheehy briefly spoke about the history of the space. “In the beginning it was a really creative space that I enjoyed a lot,” he said. “I didn’t mind the aesthetic and I didn’t mind the profanity… What I really liked was that people put up really thoughtful things, there were epithets to students who were no longer with us, there was a really interesting conversation when someone wrote about Black Lives Matter.”

Sheehy emphasized that he was open to student input, saying, “I want to be as forthcoming as I can be.” Students who have ideas or comments on what to do with the space should contact Sheehy at sheehy@brandeis.edu.

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