Public discussions about sexuality pop up on college campuses on a regular basis, and not immune from this phenomenon is our own Santa Fe University of Art and Design, where in January a spate of clitoris-themed graffiti led to uproar from school officials.
Artist Sophia Wallace had recently visited the campus with her artwork called "Cliteracy, 100 Natural Laws." The work, according to Wallace's website, was intended to explore a paradox she defines as "the global obsession with sexualizing female bodies in a world that is illiterate when it comes to female sexuality. Cliteracy is a new way of talking about citizenship, sexuality, human rights and bodies."
Yet when someone (or several someones) painted graffiti at residence halls, hallways and doors with depictions of female anatomy and the words "solid gold clit" or the abbreviation SGC, school officials wanted to impose consequences. They posted a notice that a $250 fine would be imposed on every student living on campus.
"Administration was responding to the disrespect of campus buildings by proposing a community fine, without associating the fine with the content of the graffiti," writes Larry Hinz, the SFUAD president. "In fact, many students and those in administration were initially unaware of the meaning behind the graffiti until well after the graffiti was discovered."
Yet, after meetings between administrators and students, SFUAD reneged on the plan to impose fines for the incident. Hinz still emphasizes the graffiti wasn't innocent.
"Regardless of the cost, cleanup takes away important resources from the campus community.
We believe that students and their parents don't want their tuition payments to be spent on cleaning up after a small percentage of students damage property," he writes.
After the graffiti emerged, Wallace posted a message of support for students on her Tumblr.
"Whoever did the tagging put something into the public discourse that the entire society is telling them from a young age should never ever be spoken of," she told Jackalope Magazine, a publication by SFUAD students. As she writes to SFR:
"I would guess that in the days since these tags have appeared, the word clit or clitoris has been used more than in the entire history of SFUAD's existence combined. Imagine for a moment, the psychological effect if you have a clitoris, and it is never ever spoken of, never shown in any visual or textual representation."
Mary Anne Redding, chair of SFUAD's photography department and the staff member who invited Wallace to the school, says notwithstanding the graffiti, students responded positively to Wallace's work.
"It was an amazing and powerful presentation," Redding says. "In regards to her specific workshop, one of my students decided not to attend her lecture based on his religious beliefs, but that was his personal choice. He didn't make a big deal about it, and I didn't hear anything negative during her visit about cliteracy, feminism, gender or any other issue she addressed."
Corine Frankland, chair of the liberal arts department, also says Wallace's presence had lingering effects on the student body.
"Sophia's work on the clitoris helped dispel shame around the female body and provided an impetus for students to examine self-shame and secrecy surrounding the vulva and vagina," Frankland says. "Many students chose to create and wear "Solid Gold Clit" T-shirts in support of loving and honoring one's body. It was truly amazing and empowering to see young women claiming their right to love, protect and honor their bodies, and move into the interface of the arts and social justice."