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Mystery behind cleaned rock solved as student comes forward

By Sean Willett, July 28 2017 —

The mystery of who cleaned the paint off of one of the University of Calgary’s iconic rocks has been solved.

Hamish Tregarthen, a second-year student studying anthropology and women’s studies, worked with a group of other students to remove paint from the rock outside of MacKimmie Library Tower on June 6. The other students working with Tregarthen requested not to be named.

Tregarthen’s group originally intended to paint the rock, but plans changed after they noticed large cracks running through its many layers of paint — and realized how satisfying those layers were to remove.

“It’s like peeling dried glue off of your fingers when you were a kid,” Tregarthen said. “You start and you can’t stop.”

Tregarthen said the group took care to dispose of the paint removed from the rock, and explained that any paint chips found by U of C maintenance staff were likely created by other people picking away at the rock.

“I know the university said they cleaned up paint chips, but we cleaned what we took off while we were there in an environmentally friendly way,” Tregarthen said. “Whatever anyone else did after that — because it is an addictive task, peeling off paint — is kinda our responsibility, but we cleaned up what we did.”

Since the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the rock has been host to a number of opposing political messages. Some of these messages used language associated with the ‘alt-right,’ an internet-based political movement tied with white-nationalist ideologies and online harassment.

“None of it was necessarily offensive on its own,” Tregarthen said. “But what it is referring to is a troubling trend in our society over the past few years, where the rules of discourse have decayed. It’s not helping anyone and it’s just vicious.”

These messages were what originally prompted Tregarthen’s group to give the rock a new coat of paint. While their group instead removed paint from the rock, Tregarthen made it clear that this was not intended as a means to silence free speech on campus.

“I think anyone has the right to say whatever they like and to paint the rock however they like,” they said. “That wasn’t my goal at all, to silence anyone.”

Instead, Tregarthen hopes that a clean rock will mean a clean slate for discourse on campus — and that future political discussions will feature more than just spray-painted slogans.

“You could be real cheesy with it and start talking about fresh beginnings or how it’s a new start for the fall term,” they said. “But we were just tired of what was on the rock and what has been going on and hope that next year will be a little more conducive to critical discussion hosted in a constructive way.”


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