Burton-Conner residents to be fined by Housing and Residential Services for ‘vandalism’

Musk: “MIT tells us we will be the leaders and inventors of the world, yet simultaneously believes we do not deserve the simple autonomy to paint the space we live in.”

Head of House for Burton-Conner (BC) Janelle Knox-Hayes emailed students warning that several mini-murals had popped up on the ground floor on Nov. 16. She then warned students that “the fees for repainting over these murals” would be “charged to all residents” at the end of the year. In an email five days later, BC President Cameron Kleiman ’24 noted that “stenciled bird murals” had appeared in common areas, and estimated that the fees for repainting would be around $10 per resident.

Prior to its renovation in 2020, BC permitted muraling. During renovations, these murals were painted over entirely. Additionally, Housing & Residential Services (HRS) banned muralling, instead offering students canvases to paint on. 

Since reopening in August 2022, BC has had minor issues with painting the walls. In contrast to previous incidents though, recent content on the wall was deemed by some as “reactionary vandalism.” 

In response, the BC house government and the house team temporarily suspended the guest list, angering many residents. According to an email from Knox-Hayes dated Nov. 28, BC held a town hall to discuss the issue on Nov. 27—which was deemed “productive,” with all attending generally agreeing that “guerilla muraling” was an unproductive way to advocate for muraling rights. In response, guest tap access is expected to be reinstated soon.

The Tech reached out to members of BC’s house government for comment. 

Luca Musk ’25 said that over the course of the 2023 spring semester, she met with administrators “four times to discuss murals in Burton Conner.” The administrators were Senior Associate Dean of HRS David Friedrich, Assistant Provost of Campus Planning Brent Ryan, Chancellor Melissa Nobles, and Dean of Student Life Suzy Nelson. The meetings “were helpful in getting us panels,” Musk said, but she added that “on the question of actual murals on the walls, [BC house government] were quickly stonewalled from even garnering information on how the decision was reached.”

 Musk stated that “whenever I have asked for corroborating documentation regarding the issues the administration brought up [with the muraling], they have consistently refused to provide it.”

Musk added that “it seems the supposed student input in the particular decision to ban wall murals was nearly non-existent.” 

“HRS frequently points to the Dorm Renewal Working Group (DRWG), as the working group which concluded in banning murals, but interviews with students on the DRWG demonstrate little to no student input whatsoever on the question of wall murals,” Musk said, citing a report by Sarah Edgar ’19. 

Musk emphasized the importance of “recreat[ing] a dialogue that can prevent needless fines and graffiti on our walls.” However, Musk stated that the historical context for muraling in dorms is complex. “Murals were not just given to us by MIT, they were persistently fought for. It began in the 70s, where it took four years…before murals started to get institutional support,” she said.

Musk said that “the murals issue will not go away. It is an issue of autonomy, not just art.” She added that “MIT tells us we will be the leaders and inventors of the world, yet simultaneously believes we do not deserve the simple autonomy to paint the space we live in. Through my experience on this issue, I worry what types of leaders MIT aims to create.”