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Shocking, 'offensive' posters spark an administrative investigation

Published: Thursday, February 26, 2009

Updated: Thursday, February 26, 2009 13:02

Fairey

Meredith Klein/Tufts Daily

Meredith Klein/Tufts Daily

Two posters placed over a mural outside the campus center this week that featured what some called offensive messages have prompted an investigation by the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs.

The posters were two of dozens that covered parts of a mural put up on Jan. 24 on a wall near the Jumbo Express convenience store by the artist Shepard Fairey. The other posters on the wall focused on various political messages, included images of President Barack Obama, an Israeli flag and an edited campus map, among other pictures.

The two posters that sparked the investigation conveyed messages deriding gay marriage, with images in the backgrounds. One had a photograph of a man with a sex toy and the other displayed an image of a penis. Associate Dean of Students Marisel Perez called the content "offensive" and the images "pornographic."

A person who said he created and put up the two posters told the Daily yesterday that they were not meant to offend but rather to promote discussion. The person, who requested anonymity, claimed to be a gay student who created the posters for a class.

The Office of the Dean of Student Affairs is trying to piece together why the posters were put up and has not yet classified the postings as a bias incident.

"Who put it up is not so much as relevant as content and how a message impacts the community," Perez said.

The Tufts University Police Department (TUPD) documented the incident after Perez notified the department of it on Tuesday. TUPD is cooperating with the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs during the latter's follow-up.

Bias Education and Awareness Team (BEAT Bias), an on-campus group that promotes issues of dialogue and tolerance, has also met to discuss its response and will hold an open meeting on Monday for those affected by the posters.

LGBT Center Director Tom Bourdon, who attended a BEAT Bias meeting on the posters yesterday, said that it was not clear whether the intent of whoever posted them was to back an anti-homosexual message.

"'Homophobic' definitely implies a specific intent, and it's hard to understand the messages," Bourdon said.

But the person who claimed to have put up the posters said that the two posters in question, along with all the other posters placed on the wall, were meant to oppose Fairey, the artist who put up the mural last month to coincide with his gallery opening at the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston. Fairey, the person said, does not represent a true street artist.

"The intention of my poster was to create a discourse about political topics that directly affect us as opposed to the empty aesthetic [of Fairey]," the person said.

The person believes that more discussion needs to exist about the meaning of marriage in a society.

The posters "were intended from [my] gay perspective to a social audience through social control," the person said. "It was meant to provoke, not to offend."

At its meeting yesterday, BEAT Bias members focused on their reactions to the postings. The group does not conduct investigations into bias incidents, focusing instead on helping those affected by it.

Perez, Dean of Student Affairs Bruce Reitman and Michael Baenen, the chief of staff in the Office of the President, were also present at the meeting.

BEAT Bias plans to run an advertisement in the Daily tomorrow and/or Monday promoting its upcoming meeting.

Today, the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs will look into unsubstantiated claims about the origin of the posters.

"A lot of what we know is rumors," one BEAT Bias member told the Daily.

"There's information, little pieces here and there," said Perez, who also coordinates BEAT Bias. "We're trying to figure out what happened."

BEAT Bias members said that those affected by the posters or other events can report a bias incident on Tufts WebCenter.

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3 comments Log in to Comment

reading the news from Poland
Fri Mar 6 2009 04:36
I am calling for a round of applause for both artists... I mean, this is what art should be about, creating conversations that obviously need to happen. Too bad we're still talking about issues regarding the first amendment, but once our slowly progressing country can overcome this obstacle, more relevant conversations are to be had amongst informed individuals. I say, the more public and controversial the art, the better. Bravo, Shepard Fairey and the anonymous 'gay' artist with the 'offensive' posters!
Stefan Helmers
Fri Mar 6 2009 04:13
Dear Students;

the problem of western societies in understanding "arts", is the problem in have to knowing everything. There is no space for thinking about something. And if there an (unknowing) confrontation, people want explanations immediately.

This is not also in America, it's happens in Germany and Austria too.

So free your mind^^

Greetings from Europe
Stefan Helmers |S.H.
[political and performance artist]

A Voice of Reason
Sat Feb 28 2009 19:00
If the artist in question wanted to promote reflection upon the meaning of art by directly challenging Shepard Fairey with her/his own art piece that provocatively calls into question the social implications of government sponsored marriage—then I applaud them artist. These are things worth thinking about.

Of course, I can only base my statement off of this article as the art piece itself was torn down. I suppose freedom of speech is only awarded to those who can afford it (read: P.S).

Also, Ben Gittleson, if the person you interviewed identified as gay it is not up to you to call into question their sexuality (paragraph 4, last sentence). Report the facts, not your speculations.

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