Some rules of The Rock are universal, others more blurry

Sara Peck

Just like the unspoken rules that govern waiting in line for the hot cookie bar at Allison Dining Hall, painting The Rock follows its own unwritten but universally acknowledged etiquette code.

When Cooper Carter and Paulino Barros decided to paint The Rock early Monday morning, they spent all day Sunday watching it from their window at the International Studies Residential College. It’s part of the basics of Rock code: prospective painters must stake out a spot at The Rock, guard it against rival artists and paint it only under the cover of night.

Carter, a Weinberg freshman, and Barros, a McCormick freshman, decided to paint The Rock on Nov. 5 as reference to the movie “V for Vendetta,” Carter said.

Posts on The Rock range from jokes and birthday messages to events and student activism, but all are guaranteed at least 24 hours of display free of interference, according to Rock lore. Carter said their message was more “frivolous” than many other recent messages on The Rock, but both protest information and jokes have a place on The Rock.

“That’s the spirit of The Rock,” Carter said. “You can have stuff like we did, but if I felt strongly about something I could paint The Rock for that, too.”

However, because The Rock has become such an icon of student activism over the years, the lines of “Rock ethics” are somewhat blurred. Weinberg senior Ajay Singhvi said the importance of the cause or event should affect how long a group’s design remains on The Rock.

“Things like the Virginia Tech memorial should be left for a few days,” Singhvi said. “Virginia Tech is a thing to remember and is different than a one-day thing like a birthday or an event.”

Shiana Crosby, social chair of International Studies Residential College, said she and her dormmates planned to paint The Rock last spring, but reconsidered after a Virginia Tech tribute was painted after the April 16 massacre.

“It was something more important than the ISRC,” the Weinberg sophomore said. “I didn’t want to be the first to paint over it because people would be a little upset.”

The Virginia Tech painting remained for a week before it was replaced by a Darfur awareness design.

Controversy also arose last May when members of the Zeta Tau Alpha sorority painted The Rock to advertise their breast cancer awareness event, “Light the Way,” yet awoke the next morning to “Hey Julie! Happy Birthday” scrawled in bright green paint. The only remnant of their original artwork was on the bench in front of The Rock.

“We worked all night and someone came at 6 a.m. and painted (over) it,” recalled Weinberg sophomore and Zeta member Caitlin Sherman. “We were disappointed – not mad – just upset.”

Sherman said she felt the design and the importance of the cause it represents should encourage students to follow “common courtesy” when painting the campus landmark.

“There’s a difference between something campuswide like breast cancer awareness and something personal like ‘Happy Birthday, ‘” Sherman said.

Sherman attributed the debate over Rock etiquette to the importance of NU’s identity and traditions.

“I think The Rock is a really big deal,” Sherman said. “It’s the first thing you do when you have an event: Paint The Rock.”

Crosby cited The Rock’s storied history as a catalyst for student painting.

“It has become so symbolic in a circle of events,” Crosby said. “It’s painted because it’s an icon, and it’s an icon because it’s been painted so many times.”

She added that residents of ISRC plan to try their hands at Rock artwork in the future.

“We tried to paint it earlier this year, but we didn’t have enough people to guard it in the morning,” Crosby explained.

Some students, however, felt the disputes surrounding Rock painting are overblown.

“People shouldn’t take The Rock so seriously,” said SESP sophomore Aaron Weitzen, who has painted The Rock with his fraternity brothers. “It’s iconic of NU, but I feel a lot of schools have their own version of it.”

Regardless of students’ personal beliefs, it’s difficult to walk near The Rock without picking up a “quarter sheet” flyer, grabbing a free sample or hearing an activist’s speech.

Overhyped, controversial or just a hunk of sediment, The Rock remains, as Crosby said, a “campus favorite.”

Reach Sara Peck at [email protected]