By Sean Willett, July 12 2017 —
University of Calgary students this summer may be surprised to see that one of the school’s iconic ‘rocks’ — campus fixtures on which students are allowed to paint messages — has had many of its layers of paint removed. With both the U of C and the Students’ Union denying involvement, it’s unclear who is responsible for the unusual occurrence.
Originally dug up during the construction of the U of C’s Social Sciences building, the two rocks have been campus staples since 1968. Students are free to paint the rocks without university censorship, with messages ranging from details about upcoming events to controversial political messages. The frequency of the latter increased since the 2016 U.S. presidential election, with messages like “lock her up” and “kill fascists” appearing on the rock outside of the MacKimmie Library Tower.
It was this rock that was cleaned off at some point in late June. Before, the rock had sported slogans supporting the image aggregate website 9gag.com, which in turn covered a series of messages opposing fascism. While controversial content on the rock is often painted over, the actual removal of paint is almost unheard of.
So far, it is unknown who cleaned the rock. On June 23, the @UCalgary Twitter account tweeted a picture of the cleaned-off rock with the caption “#UCalgary Rock is cleaned up and ready for another year of storytelling on this sunny Friday morning. #FridayFeeling.” This led some Twitter users to assume that U of C staff cleaned the rock, possibly in response to the controversial messages that had previously adorned it. However, the U of C was quick to clarify that their staff had only “cleaned up paint chips on the ground” and that both the school and the SU have no official procedure in place for cleaning the rock.
“We don’t own the rock, though there’s been some confusion over whether or not we do,” said SU vice-president student life Hilary Jahelka. “If someone takes the initiative to clean up the rock, then — as long as they don’t leave a lot of paint lying around — that’s their prerogative.”
Jahelka explained that the SU will never directly interfere with messages painted on the rock. If hateful or extreme content does appear, the SU will refer any complaints to the campus community or the university.
“As a students’ union, we respect the freedom of expression,” she said. “But saying that, we also recognize that people deserve the right to have an inclusive campus environment. So when voicing an opinion, it should be in a respectful way that doesn’t infringe on the basic human rights of others.”