What would you do?

i-9dc84d4d9156dccb30d5f62466b4219a-swblocks.jpgA few days ago I arrived at my office in the morning and was greeted with an unpleasant surprise...someone had scratched a cross into the bulletin board just outside my office door.

(Apologies for the terrible cell-phone picture.)

While I'm able to cover the image with a strategically placed advising schedule, I'm haunted by a terribly icky feeling in the pit of my stomach. Was someone trying to send me a message? Why a cross? Why my board and not the boards of my male colleagues along the corridor?

I'm not offended by images of crosses in general, but it is not something that I want outside my office door. I don't think it's appropriate for a faculty member at a state-sponsored institution to appear to endorse a particular region on state property. I am even more troubled because we've already had anti-semitic and anti-African-American incidents on campus.

But I am afraid that if I raise the issue with my chair or others in the administration, that this will be dismissed as trivial. Maybe it should be? But would the reaction be different if a student had vandalized "Fuck you" or some other swear word? Should I ask for a new bulletin board or just cover up the cross for the next 30 years?

More like this


I can't interpret this incident without knowing more about you than I do. This could be nothing more than a casual bit of grafitti. Or it could be a comment about your religious status, as an atheist or as a member of a conspicuous religious minority.

Personally, I would treat it as an unsightly bit of grafitti and replace the bulletin board. Even if I were convinced that it was intended as an anti-semitic statement, I would do nothing more than comment to my colleagues so that any further harrassment would not come as a shock to them.

Belt Sander. Roughen up the whole board. If the school doesn't like that, they can replace it.

At my university they keep the boards covered with cheap cork-colored fabric to prevent this sort of vandalism, and it's easy to replace if needed.

In my opinion, this is destruction of university property and should be reported. It doesn't matter (to the uni) what the "message" is.

I wouldn't worry about it as a message to you unless it happens again.

Where I work (in municipal government, with a large contingent of "believing" co-workers) I see this kind of graffitti all the time - on billboards, in stairwells, even on freeway overpasses. Seems like the faithful just can't resist the urge to vandalize for Jesus. I would not take this personally, or worry about it, unless you see it again. In any case, it doesn't hurt to document the time, place, and facts; then if this turns out to be a problem, you have something definite you can show the authorities.

What to do: Cover the bulletin board with a large piece of white paper, and use some of that paper to put up something interesting about science - it may even draw people to your bulletin board to look at the bulletins!

You are right to take this seriously. The Ku Klux Klan were notorious for burning crosses on the lawns of their enemies/targets, so this is not necessarily a religious message even if it is directed at you. I don't know enough about you or the religious or racial climate at Mystery U. or Mystery City to say more, other than to agree with Moses #4 that on GP you should report the destruction of university property to the appropriate authorities.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 06 Nov 2009 #permalink

I think it's worth taking seriously, as a religious statement and as destruction of university property. I wouldn't be surprised if the vandal has no idea that this is vandalism, that it has potential to be anti-Semitic or otherwise unwelcoming of non-Christian folks. But that's EXACTLY why it needs to be reported. Folks who think it's ok to pass out Bibles but chafe at the idea that we should have Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanah off (or be sensitive to fasting students during Ramadan, etc) need to understand their insensitivity. And they need to learn that destroying university property isn't something that makes them a good Christian, but a piss poor one.

Report up appropriate chain of command just in case this is more than some bored Christer idly doodling.

Replace if it bothers you, put up darwin fish or FSM if you want to respond or cover with paper if you are Meh about it.

Ignore unless repeated.

Tape a "Coexist" bumper sticker over it and watch what happens.

I think that someone needs to say that this type of thing is not okay. I'd report it as vandalism and request a new bulletin board, but otherwise I'd let it go and not take it personally unless it happens again.

Agreed. This is definitely vandalism, and should be reported. Religious issues aside, what if this was just a single, intentional horizontal line scratched into your office furniture (or, say, your car)? Still vandalism, still should be reported.

If it was me, I'd find it hard to resist sticking a "peeing Calvin" decal above it.

No less an authority than Supreme Court Justice Scalia has declared that this is a symbol of the resting place of the dead. Clearly this is a thread against your life, and the university ought to treat it as such.

At Scalia's suggestion, your University must therefore ban all crosses as unprotected speech.

I tend to agree with the first commenter - treat it like any other graffiti. I think you'd be well within your rights to ask for a new board, but covering it over in whatever manner you see fit would probably work just about as well.

Report it, if for no other reason than to ensure there is a record that YOU are not the one who put it there (and so are seen trying to send a religious message to others)

I lived in the university building I worked in for three years and every year had at least one incident involving vandalism. Regardless of it being a cross, profanity, or anything else, it's most likely the product of someone who was exceptionally bored.
My solution was to have a marker board up so that those who felt the need to write on things could do it without destroying property. It seemed to work well, and some of the students even commented that it gave them something to do while they waited for the elevator (on the 16th floor, you are always waiting for the elevator).
Additional plus side: you can leave messages for others on the board as well, and no wasted paper. :)
Good luck!

I would scratch an addendum to the cross to turn the whole into something else. Can't think what right off, but something artsy and sciencey at the same time. It would be a continuation of the 'conversation' on your own terms.

If it were a class setting and a comment was made, it would be simpler to engage a mind and move deliberately towards an appropriate outcome.

The invisible correspondent must not silence you. Looking forward to seeing the outcome! Take care.

Definitely document it, even if you decide against asking that facilities replace the board. That way, should anything like it recur, you will have evidence of a pattern.

By scatterplot (not verified) on 06 Nov 2009 #permalink

I would get a replacement if it's easy or just cover it up with stuff. I see it as another anti-science person trying to 'save' your department. We once got a one-page manifesto against animal research outside the lab (stuck to a picture of some pro-vaccine poster). I just scanned it in for my own sake but I never reported it.

I'm with the treat it as vandalism/graffiti crowd. Report it through the usual channels for such incidents. That creates an official record of the incident. If they choose not to fix it because it's so small, then cover it up. I wouldn't push them to do more and risk getting marked as an anti-religious trouble-maker. Don't do anything until you have it on record. If there is a second incident, then you have grounds to make a stink.

Update: I reported the incident to my chair (with photo attached) and immediate response was the offer to replace bulletin board. I also heard later that the incident was reported up to dean's office. Good for Mystery U.

I reckon you should cut out a little paper Jesus at the correct scale and use the thumbtacks to attach him to the cross at the appropriate points.

Points for creativity for pinning up a miniature school mascot or other irritating little fuzzy toy.

-The guy who crucified Barney the Dinosaur in college.

Reading these comments is very interesting. I know many young spiritual sorts who, while bored, would scratch crosses into walls (Christian-ish) or build cairns of rocks in the woods (pagan-ish) or wear jewelry, join groups, try to show everyone that they were spiritual and thus deep... it seems to be a phase of life for many young people. If you knew that it was an 18-year-old girl who was waiting for office hours and had been dumped by her boyfriend and was finding solace in Jesus, and was as entirely self-absorbed as most 18-year-olds, would it change your perception of its presence? (Statistically, most self-absorbed 18-year-olds in the US are Christian.)

The point above about crosses being burned by the KKK is certainly taken -- they're not a symbol without baggage. I do think it is fascinating, though, that I just assumed it was a kid waiting for office hours, while the majority of comments have assumed that it is a message. Now I'm mentally trying to compare and contrast this with the more usual "a guy says something and he thinks it's just an offhand remark but it really does carry the weight of the patriarchy and bias and etc." discussion. My thought experiment now is, To what extent is the graffiti of a bored kid a cultural message?

Getting a cross scratched on a cork board isn't so bad compared to the "F" word followed by "YOU, C-NT" deeply scratched by knife into the door of my office (in an all male department). I called the physical plant immediately, and they had someone over promptly, who sanded down and re-stained my door. However, I could faintly see it until the day the building was totally renovated. This experience haunts me still, 13 years later. My conclusion was that because the incident happened over a weekend and the building was locked, either a discouraged male student in my gen ed course who also was a security guard, or some really nasty colleague did the deed. Today, of course the route of choice to humiliate and defame a professor (especially women) via internet postings, especially "Rate Your Professor". I hope this is a thing of the past, but I doubt it.