Berkeley library graffiti: violence, identity, and vaginas

About a month ago, with the help of a friend I got into Doe Memorial Library at UC Berkeley on a busy Saturday afternoon, where I proceeded to photograph all the graffiti I could find in unoccupied study carrels. The resulting data set, while small, is markedly different from the UChicago graffiti corpus in a number of ways, most notably pertaining to violence, identity, and vaginas. (The full photo set, as always, is available on Flickr.)


One piece of data that I gathered, wrote about, but ultimately chose not to publish in the statistical analysis for Inkling was the use of “kill” in UofC graffiti. It comes up nine times, and in each case the suggested violence is self-directed: Kill… me (5x), yourself (2x), myself (1x), us (1x).

Violence is also a recurring theme in the Berkeley graffiti I found– the most recurring theme, in fact. “Kill” was the #1 most-used word, but almost none of the violence was self-directed. “Nerds” were the most common target of violence (3x), but “idiots” and “vilifiers” [sic] were each represented once. One of the “kill nerds” did have the addition “yourself”, though that strikes me as retaliation more than an indication of a culture of self-directed violence. The death of lawyers is also wished for in one piece.

The data set for Berkeley is so small, I hesitate to draw any conclusions based on numbers. Still, it seems worth pointing out that in one (incompletely documented) visit to the Berkeley library, I found 5 instances of “kill”, where I’ve only found 9 in 2+ years at UofC. Though perhaps people are just feeling violently towards nerds these days, who’s to say.


Identity, particularly as connected to ethnicity and/or religion, is not a hot topic in UofC graffiti. There’s [heart] Black, but that’s more than a little ambiguous (Lewis Black? The color? . There’s a reference to Jews that involves stereotypes. And someone once confessed to having sexual preferences other than their own ethnicity. It really doesn’t come up much, and when it does, people don’t really leap on it.

At Berkeley, the opposite appears to be true. Even writing the name of an ethnicity or religion (which inevitably invites people to comment) seems to be its own genre. Each sub-bullet below shows the modifications or additions:


  • Catholics rule!
    • Though they aren’t “hip” w/ Berkeley
  • Hindu rule
  • Everybody wants to be black
  • I Love being African!
    • Cool!
    • Liar lol no one does
  • black powerless hatred [this is hard to read, I'm not 100% sure of it]
  • I love Koreans
  • Asian pride
    • White + Asian pride
  • Asians rule
    • Asians drule
    • Asians will never rule
    • Asians will never do rule
    • Asians are fags
    • Asians FAG
    • Asians FLAG


At UofC, the penis is the undisputed king of genitalia. In fact, you have to go to the secondary female sex characteristics– breasts– before you can find a body part that’s drawn at all. In the text, too, there are only four references to vaginas, compared to 17 penis references.

Berkeley’s distribution of genitalia references is much more egalitarian. Yes, there are two doodles of penises. But there’s also a stand-alone doodle of of a vagina. (There’s also a doodle of a naked girl, but hers is not included so I don’t think it quite counts.) Between “pussy” and “vagina”, female genitalia is referenced four times in my Berkeley graffiti sample– whereas there is only a single reference to penises.

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