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Davis, California

Friday, February 23, 2024

UC Davis Grounds Division removes student debt art exhibit, mistakes it for vandalism

Five art history students’ public exhibit consisting of posters emphasizing the issue of student debt were removed hours after they were put up the morning of March 11. The banners were put up at 5 a.m. and taken down before 10 a.m. the same day.

The students involved initially thought it was due to the disapproval of the administration, especially since the exhibit contrasts the administration’s One World, UC Davis banners with One University, One Debt posters.

However, the banners’ removal was an accident, caused by lack of communication between the students and the administration.

One University, One Debt is an art exhibit created by a group of five art history students — Evelyn Frederick, Stacey Kotcher, Heather Wallace, Valerie Brown and Deborah Pavlovich — in Art History 401, Museum Training: Curatorial Principles. The exhibit serves to highlight the problem of student debt both on campus and across the country and hopes to create a forum for public discussion on the matter.

The group hopes it will be a “catalyst for discussion for the solution,” said Brown, a fourth-year art history and design double major.

There are two components to the exhibit: a website — which includes a forum — and a physical exhibit, which was placed underneath One UC Davis banners on the Quad and along Hutchison Drive.

“We want to raise awareness and reach as many people as possible,” said Kotcher, a fourth-year art history major.

The website is similar to the One World, One UC Davis page, showcasing pictures and posts from popular media websites such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook with the hashtag “#onedebt.”

One Debt and One UC Davis have the same aim: to tell the stories of UC Davis students. One Debt highlights what the students believe to be an understated issue.

“We want more students to look into the problem of student debt,” said Frederick, a fourth-year art history major.

Because the posters highlight a negative issue and were juxtaposed to the supposed positive image of the One UC Davis campaign, their removal was at first seen by the group as a censure of the exhibit.

“Our banners are already being removed. After receiving an email of ‘support’ from administration, what kind of statement are they trying to make?” posted the One University, One Debt’s Facebook page on [March 11] around 9 a.m.

The UC Davis Grounds Division took down the banners because of lack of prior notice, according to Cary Avery, the Grounds superintendent, who oversaw this process.

“Nothing was done intentionally,” Avery said.

Members of the administration have expressed support for the exhibit and its message.

“It’s not a bad thing, it’s free speech,” said Adela de la Torre, vice chancellor of Student Affairs. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to create discussion.”

However, de la Torre did not know that the banners had been taken down that morning.

John Meyer, vice chancellor of Administrative and Resource Management, was unaware of staff members taking down the posters.

“My understanding is that this was an art project and the students who put them up also removed them,” Meyer said.

When the posters were taken down, the students were not sure why they were removed.

“We don’t know who gave authorization to take them down,” Kotcher said.

Skip Mezger, the campus landscape architect, had not heard of the project until Kotcher came into his office at about 3 p.m. on March 11 inquiring about the lost banners.

The policy on posting says: “No poster, handbill, or any other form of announcement or statement may be placed on, attached to, hung from, propped against, or written on any structure or natural feature of the campus such as walls, doors of buildings (either inside or outside), windows, restrooms, building or directional signboards, the surface of walkways or roads, fountains, posts, columns, waste receptacles, or trees.”

“Typically, we work with the campus groups on projects like this to let the campus community know what is coming,” Mezger said.

According to Avery, the Grounds Division sees that no graffiti or vandalism is left on campus each morning. Upon seeing the posters, the Grounds staff took them down on the premise of vandalism.

“There can be issues with banners, posters and art works and we just want to make sure they are installed in the proper places, they are safe and we know when they are going to come down,” Mezger said.

Stacey Kotcher arranged to pick up the posters from Avery’s office at 8 a.m. on March 12. Mezger said that he was open to talk about the project and see to it that the banners could be put up properly.

One University, One Debt can be viewed online at onedebt.info. The group urges students to share their stories on student debt by posting on social media with the hashtags “#oneucdavis” and “#onedebt.”


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