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Window Plain: Ohio State changes policy, says no more dorm-room window art

Students in Scott House posted “Jess, Will You Marry Me?” and “Ducks 4 for Harambe” on their windows in Sept. 2016. Credit: Dominique Johnson | Lantern Reporter

 

With the opening of North Campus residential dorms last year, students trying to get a laugh out of passer-bys found a new hobby: window art.

Messages from “Ducks out 4 Harambe” to “Donald Trump wears cargo shorts” could be seen across dorm-room windows along High Street and Lane Avenue, turning a walk to class into a current-events lesson.

But this year Ohio State decided to put an end to the new fad, effectively eliminating the messages sprawled across the dorm rooms inhabited by newly moved-in freshmen and sophomores.

Dave Isaacs, spokesman for the Office of Student Life, said his office reviews its dorm policies each year and decided to ban window art moving forward. Isaacs said the decision reflects the approach other universities take to similar situations.

“That is just ridiculous,” said Moritz College of Law professor emeritus David Goldberger, who specializes in constitutional law.

“A flat-out ban is probably more than they can do,” he said. “It is one thing for the university to be concerned about racist or inappropriate messages that would legitimately interfere with an educational environment … but a flat ban? Does that mean that you can’t display the American flag?”

According to Ohio State’s residential living handbook, the answer is yes.

Windows must remain clear from obstruction and university window coverings need to be visible from the outside.

“Posting, hanging or otherwise displaying signage, lighting or other materials in or around the residence hall windows or on university window coverings is not permitted,” the handbook states.

Last year, when window art started to become prominent, Isaacs and the Office of Student Life had a much different view on the matter.

“I am continually impressed by the creativity of Ohio State students,” Isaacs told The Lantern in an interview last autumn. “Although, we do hope that our students use this unique feature to highlight messages that are positive and not offensive or in poor taste.”

Now the university is having residence hall staff inform all students of the ban during floor meetings. The dorm staff will also be the ones enforcing the ban, according to Isaacs.

First-year chemistry student Emma Hoellrich said she first found out about the ban when she moved in. Being from Columbus, she said she enjoyed seeing the funny messages on the windows last year when she would visit campus.

“Right away they told us at the floor meeting that we couldn’t put anything on the windows,” Hoellrich said.

She said some residents in her dorm laughed when they heard displaying window art was no longer allowed. “I didn’t really see the big deal with the messages. I thought they were funny,” Hoellrich said.

John McCarty, a second-year in business who lives in Torres House, said he thought the ban was a form of censorship and limited students’ freedom of expression.

“Why limit it? If it is not inappropriate and is just funny I don’t see a problem with it,” McCarty said.

Several of the newer dorms, such as Bowen, Torres and Houston House, face major roads, allowing the general public and passing drivers to be able to see the dorm windows.

Curtains close a room to the outside world but students say sticky notes or colored paper is a way to express themselves.

“This is a university campus. It’s not a high school,” Goldberger said.

2 comments

  1. I wonder what would happen if some students posted “D-I-V-E-R-S-I-T-Y” in their windows and got into a 1st Amendment skunkfight with tOSU over core values and free expression thereof?

    Timely contact with reporters and bloggers, etc., beforehand would add more zing to it.

    Ah yes, if I were younger and just moved into the dorms I’d have this planned out several moves ahead, very carefully. “If tOSU does this, we’ll do that; if they do that, then we’ll do this…”

    “Freedom isn’t free,” indeed! It takes work and some risk, but the fight against Unthinking Bureaucracy is worthwhile even when one fails.

    I can see why the bureaucrats don’t want anything embarrassing to happen. However, these are folks who get paid VERY handsomely, and tuition, room and board are very costly. Losing first amendment rights in one’s abode just ain’t right.

    Karl Spaulding
    spaulding.10

  2. I see I was old, tired and crotchety this morning. My apologies to the Universe.

    I’m currently reading “Unleashing the Power of Unconditional Respect” by Colwell and Huth. “Anima” vs. “persona.” Interesting stuff.

    A little more kindly this time,

    Karl

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