The Scarlet & Black

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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Feven Getachew
Feven Getachew
May 6, 2024
Michael Lozada
Michael Lozada
May 6, 2024
Nathan Hoffman
Nathan Hoffman
May 6, 2024
Harvey Wilhelm `24.
Harvey Wilhelm
May 6, 2024

Toilet art?: Exhibiting Burling bathrooms’ past

The tradition of public student art in Burling bathrooms has been an integral part of Grinnell College for at least four decades. Photo contributed by Priyanka Dangol `22.

The Burling basement bathroom, known for the poems, quotes, graffiti and other types of art scattered all over the walls, underwent a routine repainting before students arrived back on campus for the fall 2021 semester. This tradition of public student art in Burling bathrooms has been an integral part of Grinnell College for at least four decades and students have enjoyed adding to the collection. Many are worried that some of the best artwork will be lost after getting repainted.  

Elissa Suarez `23, who has taken many pictures of the art-ridden walls, said that she felt less alone every time she posted a picture of the walls.  

Suarez commented on one of her favorite pieces, “It was a stick figure that said, ‘let us lift each other’ and that feels like an integral part of the spirit of Grinnell.” 

But views about the art in the bathrooms were not always positive. An opinions article from the March 4, 1983, edition of the Scarlet and Black went as far as to state, “If the only appropriate place for a remark is on the wall of a toilet stall, chances are the comment is better left unsaid.”  

As more students started leaving uplifting messages, silly and inspiring poems, and eye-catching graffiti, what a student in 1983 may have considered vandalism has transformed to become one of the many traditions that define the Grinnell community.  

“I think it’s a dispersed way in which people can support each other at literally the hardest of times,” Eliza Meyer `23 commented on the effect some of the poems had on her. Meyers mentioned how she enjoyed reading positive quotes in the bathroom as it added to a sense of community.  

Though she was disappointed about the repainting, she’s confident that the tradition will continue regardless, “I guess in some ways it’s a great opportunity to start fresh,” she said. 

For Suarez, the graffiti was one of the first things she knew about the College and she believes it perfectly embodies the spirit of self-government. She encouraged first and second years to continue the tradition, “that’s what [the bathroom walls] are there for!” 

Marnie Monogue `21 asserted that the routine practice of repainting the bathroom walls is like restarting the record every year. She was surprised to find a poem (“The Tiger,” by Nael) she had written during her time on campus re-written this semester after the walls were repainted.  

Monogue said, “It’s really special because you’re at Grinnell for four years, so everyone has a short passage of time to make their mark figuratively or literally and this tradition is a big part of that.” 


Located in Burling first-floor bathroom. Photo taken Sept. 27, 2017. Photo Contributed by Priyanka Dangol `22.

Located in women’s Burling basement bathroom. Photo taken Jan. 23, 2020. Photo contributed by Eliza Meyer `23.

Located in women’s Burling basement bathroom. Photo taken Nov. 11, 2019. Photo contributed by Priyanka Dangol `22.

Located in women’s Burling basement bathroom. Photo taken March 2020. Photo contributed by Maren Cooper `22.


Located in Burling first-floor bathroom. Video taken fall 2019. Video contributed by Kaya Matsuura `23.

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