If you paint it, they will draw…
By Kawanna Bright, Head of First Year Services
Putting whiteboard paint on the walls of the East Commons seemed like one of those ideas that would appeal readily to the student body. What could be wrong with actually having permission to write on the walls? Of course, then we ran into a snag and had to ask the student to not write on the walls for the few months following the opening of the space. We repainted and reopened the space and the walls to student use for the spring semester. Then we waited….and waited….and waited for something meaningful to show up on the walls. The occasional doodle trickled in, a smiley face or two, but for the most part the walls remained bare.
Then in late January a couple of student groups chose to use the walls as an outlet for expressing themselves and informing students about their work and the floodgates opened. But when you have wall space where students can write and express themselves, you don’t necessarily expect art (and you won’t always get art). But while the students have been expressing themselves, they have also been showing off their artistic talents.
Case in point: Members of The Movement – UTSA, a student organization based on sustainability and philanthropy, not only used the walls to inform students about their organization, but they did so with impressive skill, utilizing images that were well drawn but also impactful. They were followed by the Manipulative Mechanics Club whose purpose is “to understand, learn, perform, and teach any and all aspects of technology in the pursuit of knowledge for both practical use and theory.” Both groups are new to the campus and taking advantage of this method of communicating their message to others.
And they aren’t the only ones, as students are also taking advantage of the walls to leave inspirational messages and quotes, as well as to draw out complicated formulas.
So what does all of this mean for those of us who work in the Information Commons? It means that we are now developing a cleaning schedule for the walls so that students will continue to use them, and so that they are not dominated by only one group or one message. We’ll be placing a message at the top of the walls away from the space where the students normally write to let them know of the new cleaning schedule. It also means that we will have to stock up on our markers and erasers – these walls look like they are going to be getting a lot of use as the semesters move forward. And that’s how it’s supposed to be – “If you build it, they will come.” Seems just as natural to say, “If you paint it, they will draw.” And we get to sit back and enjoy.