Yesterday morning at 8am students in our Pilgrims, Travelers and Tourists class spread out across campus, took empty spaces and narrated them into existence—haunting the campus with the likes of pirates, magical ravers, Paul Bunyan and revelations of improbable things just below the surface. The rainy weather wasn’t ideal, but the signs did attract a great deal of attention. Once again the sudden appearance of unknown narratives were a kind of collective campus curiosity test.
“What are all of the yellow signs about?”
Despite doing this every year I teach my class, it continually amazes (and frustrates!) me how nervous various offices around campus become when you say you want students to put signs up with short narratives on them. The clearing and policing of the spotless green spaces of campus have now become so naturalized that it is difficult to even imagine them being used for teaching and learning.
While “doing the unexpected” may make for a good marketing slogan, in practice some parts of the university are clearly uncomfortable with things they doesn’t understand—and aren’t curious enough to ask about. This year my class was initially informed that if security or communications was “concerned” about the content of any of the signs they would be summarily removed—as if those offices existed not to support teaching and learning at the university, but to defend the university against things that are inappropriate or might cause concern.
Fortunately parts of our school have solid academic leadership that has a commitment to freedom of speech and the work that faculty and students do in the classroom and the issues were resolved within a day. Every year, however, doing this assignment becomes more of an onerous burden on my time—and more frustrating to try and arrange.
Of course, as you might notice, this year there were quite a few narratives that should concern university security and communications:
Stand on this spot during a full moon and David Bowie will appear to help you figure out your sexual identity.
This is where the ghost of your past died. Don’t turn around.
This is the secret rendezvous point for the People Who Think You’re Cute Club. They meet every Wednesday during Convo hour.
The person who stands by this sign the longest will get $100.
Twenty feet beneath this sign there is an underground network of rooms and hallways.
Wait in this spot, and Frank Ocean will bring you a copy of his new album.
Two feet below this hallowed ground lies the dagger that encases the dark one.
At dawn, if you are lucky, a grouping of butterfly cats will emerge and perch on your shoulders.
In this spot, the eye of Saruman keeps watch.
On this spot the Bishop statue came to life to meet his one true love.
This is where squirrels will meet to plan their takeover of Hamline.
This is the oldest tree on campus.
This is where the Annual Midway Squirrel Festival is held.
Seen from this spot, the moon is said to appear ten times larger to the human eye.
Paul Bunyan was here.
If you listen carefully, you can hear the despair of many exhausted Hamline students.
If you stand under this tree and say “WUUUB WUB WUB WUB WUB”
Skrillex will gently descend from a cloud and rave with you.
On this spot, on April 1st of 2050 at 5pm, there will be an epic battle between Abe Lincoln and Al Capone.
This tree came from one of the first seeds Johnny Appleseed planted when he traveled through Minnesota.
Pause here for a couple of seconds and listen for the ghostly whispers of students who didn’t pass their final exams.
It is rumored that this is the spot where the infamous Minnesota pirate Icebeard buried his treasure.
Instead of being destroyed in June 1992, the Philosopher’s Stone was transported to Minnesota and buried here.
This is where an anthropology class succeeded in making people walk across Old Main lawn to read a yellow sign.
This is where the future president of the League of Liberated Zombies will rise from the dead.
The illuminati are watching.
John Cena graduated from Hamline University in this spot in 1931.
Please move this sign. Please do not post signs on this spot.
Bring a friend to this spot, whisper a secret to them, and see what happens.
Here are a section of photos. The students did a great job, and clearly enjoyed taking narrative control of the empty spaces of their campus, even if only for a day!