Vandals Strike With Expression

Emma Dejong

Freedom of expression has its limits — and its consequences.

Two instances of vandalism last semester in The Union caused damage totaling $1,500. If the same person committed both crimes they could be charged with a Class 4 Felony, said SDSU Police Department Chief Tim Heaton.

Both illustrations were done in black permanent marker with matching artistic techniques and similar messages. Union Director Jennifer Novotny listed a few.

“Free thinking, evolution, free your mind — that sort of thing,” she said.

The first crime was committed Oct. 12, between 10 p.m. and midnight, Novotny estimated. The drawing was on a booth in Einstein Bros. Bagels, scrawled on the plastic seat cover and expanding up the wood paneling.

Outside help was hired to completely replace wainscoting wood and the upholstery, totaling $1,500.

The second occurrence was reported to the SDSUPD Nov. 18. It was in a stall of the men’s bathroom in the lower level of The Union. Novotny said there were drawings covering “the entire stall.”

Union staff estimated the repair cost could have been another $1,500, or possibly up to $20,000 if the stalls needed to be replaced completely. However, one of the custodians spent nearly three hours coming up with a chemical mixture that took off the marker from the sides of the stall, and the stall door was then repainted for less than $25.

“It’s pretty awesome,” Novotny said. “We thought we were going to have to rip out the whole stall.”

At this point, after two unresolved offenses, Novotny said she and the Union staff are at a loss for what action to take.

Security can only go so far. Fingerprinting is not an option with the particular locations. And surveillance cameras have their limits, which include bathroom stalls.

“We can’t do a lot,” Novotny said. “… We’re just looking for other good stewards of the building,” to help identify the person responsible.

She said a cash reward is available for anyone who is willing to come forward with information. Anonymity could be provided, as well.

Novotny does not think this property damage was hateful; the person may have just needed an outlet. She is brainstorming possible solutions for this, and she has considered the possibility of putting up large Plexiglas sheets for students to write on.

“Maybe there’s a more mature way to express your ideas than Sharpie,” she said.

There were 18 reported vandalism cases last semester on the entire campus, according to the SDSUPD’s crime logs. Heaton said this is average in comparison to other semesters and there is no sign it’s going away.

“We have a sense that this is probably going to continue to occur,” Novotny said.