Page House’s Mural Saga Continues

Page House’s Mural Saga Continues

Ankita Nandi (ASCIT Director of Operations) | Op-Ed

Each undergraduate house has a unique culture. Pretty much every Caltech student ever would agree. Parts of what makes house cultures unique, since they are so intertwined with their physical spaces, are the murals in each house. The murals can range in theme throughout each house and the campus as a whole. In the case of Page House, the murals on some doors and hallways are often associated with past years’ Ditch Day activities, and other hallways have regular murals that were painted by former residents. Arguably the most iconic mural is in our dining hall, proudly displaying the Page House Crest since its inception. Until now.

In Fall 2023, the Housing Office and the Office of Student Experience (OSE) asked Page to alter parts of murals throughout the house, and in some cases, threatened to have murals completely repainted. The mural review process is extensive, and a recent change in policy directly challenges murals in the Page halls. As dictated on the Housing Office website, all murals must be approved in advance and may not contain references to Caltech community members, alcohol or drugs, or offensive content. Additionally, they may not be painted on doors (Page receives special permission for door murals for Ditch Day), and murals must be completed, including signatures and dates from the artists, within a six week period. Perhaps the most inflexible rule in years past was that “No modifications to murals will be made without permission,” which has led to situations such as where a mural of “Liberty Leading the People” in Alley Seven of Page House has remained unfinished for years. But now, under the new policy, that mural was deemed incomplete. This means it must finally be finished by members of the house, or else the maintenance crew will paint it all over with white.

With this context, the instruction to alter the Page Crest mural, which prominently displays a keg and a triangle of beer pong cups, should come as no surprise. But that crest has been a part of Page history for decades. All Page merchandise with the crest features the current design in the dining hall. So we were definitely caught off guard upon receiving an ultimatum from the Housing Office, especially since it was sent during finals week of Fall term: either someone designs an alteration, or the crest would be completely removed over winter break.

Evidently, Housing was not going to wait any longer to start enforcing the new Mural Policy. And indeed, upon our return from winter break in January 2024, Page residents discovered that another mural in the house had been painted over.

As for the crest, I took on the responsibility of repainting it based on a design that Vice President Lily Randall (Ge ‘25) designed that keeps the spirit of the original. While I always intended on painting a mural in Page by the time I graduated, I am extremely annoyed that it came about in the way that it did: where if no one else did it, the crest would have been erased from our walls.

Caltech prides itself (and advertises itself) on the unique house system and the tight-knit community of students that results. Thankfully, most of the alterations to the murals are small, such as painting over a beer can that was on Homer Simpson’s belly. But as silly as some of them may be, the murals are a part of our house history, and it is a disgrace to previous years of Page residents to alter their work without a full discussion. When alumni come to visit Page during Alumni Weekend in the future, I would not be surprised if they noticed some of the bigger changes to the murals, such as the House Crest in the dining hall. My hope is that Caltech continues to consider student voices and appreciate student self-expression, but that means discussions, not ultimatums.

Current crest in dining hall:

New crest to be painted: