On Saturday, March 31, only weeks after back-to-back weekends of SXSW and UT Round-Up left the streets of West Campus ravaged and litter-laden, local organizations teamed up on Cesar Chavez Day to “beautify” West Campus by initiating a graffiti abatement project.
By Tinu Thomas
The project, which was suggested by UTPD nearly a year ago, was finally completed by volunteers from the Longhorn Center for Community Engagement (LCCE), the West Campus neighborhood association, and students from UT Austin and UT Arlington. While UTPD officers were not present at the actual clean-up event due to more emergent matters, sources from the LCCE say they were definitely in strong partnership.
Volunteers, many of which sported shirts with Greek letters, cheerfully hit the streets with paint rollers and buckets of tan city-issued paint cans in hand, moving from one building to the next. Approximately 40 volunteers gathered in front of the now-closed Jack In The Box on the corner of Guadalupe St. and Dean Keeton to cover it’s graffiti-laden exterior, making no exceptions for windows or doors.
UTPD’s role in the event was to get the word out about the cleanup and tell officers to encourage business owners to participate. A 311 poll was sent out to local businesses asking whether their places of business were subjected to unwanted graffiti. Those who answered “yes” were directly contacted by UTPD to participate in the graffiti abatement project. “We had officers hand-deliver invitations,” says Murphy.
UTPD Officer Michael T. Murphy says the idea spurred from an observation on his daily patrols of West Campus. “We patrol every day and you can’t help but notice on patrol that there’s graffiti that’s been up for 12 months in the back alley,” says Murphy. “I really felt I wanted to try and do something about it.”
Murphy admits the graffiti does not present a clear danger to the community by itself, but suggested that it sends a message of neglect which opens a door to other crimes in the area. “That tells people that the owners don’t care about the status of that building and that this is a place that crime can occur because the community doesn’t care about it," says Murphy. "I know that’s not true. I know the community does care about that neighborhood.”
On Saturday morning, Wayne Holstine, a graduate assistant at the LCCE, led one of the clean-up shifts at Jack In The Box. “We’ve had about 100 people come out,” Holstine says. “(Delta Upsilon), Boy Scouts from the city, high school students from the National Honor Society and other smaller UT service groups.”
Holstine says while attempts to beautify West Campus can feel like just a drop in a bucket, the efforts are part of a bigger initiative to promote community engagement and responsibility. “It’s not a problem that’s going to be solved with one painting session," Holstine says. "We’re hoping to keep working on this as the years go on. But for now, we’re definitely making a small dent.”