“[Blank] Was Here:” The Graffitied Desks of Bulfinch and Pearson Hall

Some desks, such as this one in Pearson Hall, have been so thoroughly graffitied that they now have holes in their surfaces.

“Who likes pie?” “I want to graduate.” “Ya got pesto on my pants.” These etchings litter the tops of the wooden desks in Bulfinch Hall and Pearson Hall and have caught the attention of students for decades.

To Emma Kaplon ’21, the graffiti in Bulfinch Hall serve as mementos from former students who have gone through the same learning process in the building. Kaplon especially appreciates the graffiti when she’s having trouble getting through class and feels that they help to remind student to stay on track to graduation.

“On the desks in Bulfinch, sure, some of the notes are a little bit bizarre, but the doodles and initials with class years next to them are a really cool reminder of all of the people that sat there before you. Especially when you’re struggling to get through class- which of course is all of us at times – the notes are a little bit of motivation from all of the students who sat through the same long classes and graduated,” wrote Kaplon in an email to The Phillipian.

Axel Ladd ’20 has taken Greek and Latin in Pearson Hall since his Lower year. Ladd appreciates the visual reminder of the building’s history, noting that some names and markings are dated back to the 1970s and “probably ones even older.” In addition to names and class years, there are also other carvings on the desks, like jokes about Latin and Greek, drawings, quotes, and advice.

“People don’t carve really nasty things into the desks. It’s usually something sweet. There’s one where it’s like, ‘If you need to guess, guess a relative clause of characteristic’ which is a Latin joke and I always find it hilarious…It’s a nice way to sort of leave a history of every student who has sat at the desks who’ve gone through the Pearson education,” said Ladd.

While most names and class year carvings are harmless, many of the desks have sustained significant damage. According to Joshua Mann ’96, Chair and Instructor of Classics, students aren’t able to write on some desks in Pearson Hall due to egregious damage done to the surface of the desk.

“When I see [the desks], I think as a teacher first. I go into it with that ergonomic practicality, like, ‘These are not good desks.’ There’s all these holes and graffiti, and the surface is hard to write on. Kids need to take out books or folders often to write on tests because they poke through,” said Mann.

The desks have also affected how Mann conducts his exams.

Mann said, “There’s one desk that I won’t let students sit at for tests, because somebody wrote down all the Latin declensions and verb endings and stuff like that, so it’s essentially a cheat sheet that’s there.”

However, both as a former student and a sixth-year faculty member, Mann understands the significance and sentimentality of the desks as visual reminders of the history of the school.

“For a school as old as we are, which is much legacy and history, I think it’s a very visceral representation of…the unspoken history, which you don’t get a lot of…Those particular classrooms are [some] of the oldest on campus, if not the oldest at this point…[and] I think it’s an anchor for the school in some ways,” said Mann.

Nicholas Kip ’60, Instructor in Classics, recalled a former Andover roommate who took Latin in Pearson D. According to Kip, his roommate allegedly wrote bad remarks about Kip on one of the desks, and he has been looking for the graffiti in question since.

Kip also mentioned that his students, both former and current, feel attached to the desks and other notable characteristics of the building. According to Kip, they would “come back and revolt” if the desks were ever to be taken away, and he attributes this to the uniqueness of the building.

In February 2018, the administration planned to renovate Pearson A, a classroom in Pearson Hall, to make room for the Academic Skills Center. Upon hearing the news, several students banded together to create a petition – “Save Pearson A” – that garnered over 930 signatures. Ultimately, the committee reconvened and landed on a compromise that did not require the renovation.

“[Students] feel very attached to this place. It gives you [that feeling], because it’s not just another ho-hum, you know, ersatz-type classroom building. It has its own distinct character, and so it’s kind of nice. And of course, it is pretty much in the dead center of campus, which doesn’t hurt,” sad Kip.

While the desks in Bulfinch Hall and Pearson Hall both bear the same inscriptions and writings from students, the desks in Pearson Hall date back to the mid to late 1800s and are mounted on cast-iron legs from that time as well, according to Kip. Kip says that some alumni have expressed interest in buying some of the desks, though he says how that process would be relatively difficult, seeing how the desks are built together in long rows of five or six.

While many people feel that the graffiti adds character to the buildings, Stephanie Curci, Chair of English, is disappointed that students continue to write on the desks in Bulfinch Hall. When the English department finds especially offensive material, the desks must be manually sanded down.

“It’s just depressing that people treat or feel comfortable treating stuff that way. I’m sure that wouldn’t be allowed in their own home. It does cost us more money to replace the desks if we have, if they’re offensive, they have to be taken away and sometimes they can be resanded, but like somebody has to do that work. And what you don’t always see is that students maybe think or care about other people’s as the labor in doing that.” said Curci.

Curci continued, “When we find stuff that uses hate speech, which I really wish we never saw, but when we find something that’s offensive, or targets a specific person, we remove it. We don’t always notice, but I would encourage students to let us know if they see that stuff.”

Offensive graffiti is also a problem in Pearson Hall, according to Mann. Showcasing “both gently and aggressively offensive material,” the desks are far from benign, in one case displaying Nazi-aligned sentiments.

However, Mann hopes to find a way to balance both honoring the sentimental and harmless material on some of the desks while also making sure that classrooms are safe and inclusive spaces.

Mann said, “I had this ambition that I would like to start a clean slate, but I also know that I’d be erasing history as well, there’s all these things that people just put very amicably…and I have no problem with that. My name, or my initials are on there somewhere…So it’s hard to balance those two things and trying to come up with a way to preserve some of the history there, but also coming up with a way that’s neat and clean and useful.”