The puzzle piece art that hangs in the Performing Arts and Humanities Building, made by the Humanities Scholars, was reportedly vandalized between 9:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. on Jan. 29.
Rachel Brubaker, who works for the Dresher Center, was the one who found the scene, starting with a golden gift bag and an envelope resting on the doorknob of the Humanities Scholars office. Brubaker texted her coworker, Courtney Hobson.
When Hobson came into work not long after, she contacted Professor Timothy Phin, the Humanities Scholar Director and when he arrived, and they noticed the powder blue permanent marker scrawled across 18 of the puzzle pieces that hang on the wall outside the Dresher Center. Hobson then phoned the police, who confiscated the bag.
Inside the bag was literature, which UMBC Police Chief Paul Dillon described as “envelopes with writing, [a] prayer type booklet [referencing The Calix Society], Achievement in Scouting from the State of MD Award, [and a] Bag from Our Lady’s Center in Ellicott City.” On the side of the bag was a “resume of sorts,” Hobson said.
Dillon states that there were no threats in the vandalism, only broken phrases, like “nothing to see here carry on -9/11,” “I was here,” “We are us.”
Scrawled on the wall was another message: a large arrow pointed from “STEVE No SUCH AGENCY… yet.” to “HIRE ME PLEASE, [a personal email address] Linehan ‘2000 Shriver + RPCV Jamaica.”
Phin points out that “STEVE” may be referring to Stephen Bradley, who is the Director of Linehan Artist Scholars Program and cites his worry. “If someone is scrawling Steve’s name in the middle of the night, I mean, that’s concerning,” said Phin. According to Hobson, one of her coworkers discussed “No SUCH AGENCY” as being a reference to the popular conspiracy theory about the NSA not existing.
“I don’t necessarily think this is a malicious thing, it more so seemed like he was looking for a job [or] they are in need of help,” Hobson said.
The personal email address belonged to a student who graduated as a Linehan Scholar in 2000. Their online presence shared personal information and specific phrases that were also included in the vandalism, according to Hobson. The police have not confirmed that this student is a suspect.
Though the security cameras in the PAHB do not reach that area of the hallway, the police have stated that they do have a suspect. The police have not released the official police report to The Retriever and Dillon says they have no plans to change the security in the building.
“We relied on the cameras to try and help us, but the cameras are only at the entrances and then one or two hallways. We’re kind of back here and no one can see anything that’s going on here. If stuff like this happens again, the cameras aren’t going to pick up anything,” said Hobson.
Hobson remembers last year when Brubaker’s purse was stolen. Brubaker had only stepped out for a moment to use the restroom, leaving her purse in the cabinet. When she returned, her purse, which held her house keys, wallet and car keys, was gone.
“They tried to read the [security] video here, at the door, but I don’t think they were able to come up with anything conclusive,” said Brubaker. “It’s a shame, the police come and they take a report, and they do what they can, but I never saw my purse again, and it took an awful lot of work to get new [credit card] accounts and even getting paid here, getting back on direct deposit.”
After this, and some more petty theft occurred, Hobson said she felt that her office was in a vulnerable placement, a place that the public often confuses for a main PAHB office. However, both Brubaker and Hobson expressed that there was no simple solution to these kinds of issues, and mentioned that the Dresher Center was adamantly against students feeling surveilled.
“I disagree with us as an office getting a Nest camera or a Ring camera, but as a building, the fact that you only have cameras in those places, and this building was designed with blind spots, I think about if there was an emergency situation, I’m sitting out here in the open,” said Hobson.
And, Brubaker notes, there is an element of vulnerability for professors coming in early in the morning. “We don’t want drones or roving eyes on us but certainly, I’m here at 7:30 in the morning, so I’m one of the first people in the building and it’s usually pretty deserted. I feel fine coming in, I don’t feel like I’ve ever had an issue but things happen,” she said. “We want to be welcoming, but I don’t know if there really is a good solution. It’s an inconvenience, but it’s a small one. In terms of [the vandalism], it’s not the sort of the thing that you feel physically threatened by, although you don’t know! It’s just sort of disturbing because it’s disturbed, and it’s a violation of people’s space and artwork.”
Students who are in the building after 11 p.m. are permitted to stay, but no students are allowed to enter after then. But, Hobson points out, students could potentially sleep in the building if they enter early enough.
The tradition of the Humanities Scholars decorating large puzzle pieces began in Fall of 2014, when Ana Oskoz was the director of the program. Since then, students who are a part of the Scholars program have been required to create the puzzle piece in their image and present the pieces and then hang them on the wall. Four years later, when they graduate, the students receive their pieces to revisit the perspective of their freshman year.
“They provide a time capsule, a reflection of you, as you are then… your personality and interests,” said Phin. “[The vandalized pieces] are forever ruined. We were heartbroken.”
Dillon states that the suspect may have mental health problems, while Phin conjectured that the person of interest could have been “off,” possibly drinking or on drugs. “This is the first time anything like this has happened. We’ve never had any problems with the puzzle pieces,” said Phin.
He says he plans to speak with each of the Scholars to decide where to go from here. Many have expressed that they feel “violated” by the event.