Graffiti analysis part 4: Brown University

This is the third in a five-part series of posts describing the results of my analysis of my graffiti corpora. I strongly recommend you read “Prelude to a graffiti analysis” first to understand the methodology, data, and sampling. You might also be interested in part 1, Arizona State University; part 2, University of Colorado – Boulder, and part 3, University of California at Berkeley.

Be kinder than necessary; everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battleThe only Ivy League school I’ve had the chance to explore, Brown University has a library full of wood study desks in the bookstacks, palimpsests of text that has accumulated over many years. In only a few hours there, I amassed 931 pieces of graffiti, 64% of the total amount of graffiti I’ve gathered over the span of three years at UChicago. The U.S. News & World Report* states that their 6-year graduation rate is 95%, and their students’ incoming SAT scores, 25th-75th percentile, are 1320-1530.

Going to Brown University revitalized my love for the graffiti project; I had been getting discouraged after looking at one uninspiring graffiti corpus after another. I think a fair cutoff for what I consider to be a “satisfying” graffiti corpus is 1.5, and Brown makes that cut with an unweighted interestingness score of 1.56 and a weighted score of 1.59.

Most interesting categories


Category Score
Meta 2.03
Despair 1.77
Self 1.77
School 1.75
Reference 1.73

Most common categories


Category % of graffiti
Sex 10
Quotes 7
Love 5.1
Insult 4
Advice 3.1

Quotes and references

Brown University and UChicago are the only two schools that have a significant number of graffiti quoting sources directly, rather than just making reference to them. At Brown, there’s more than twice as many quotes as references (34 references vs. 72 quotes). There’s enough quotes from music for an exploration of genre to be worthwhile.

The “other” sources include video games, sports, and internet memes.

As usual, music is by far the most common source of quotes, and it can be divided by genre as follows:

Brown students quote music from a wider variety of genres than other schools (over 10 genres quoted, vs. references from 5 genres for Colorado and 4 genres for Arizona State), though this is almost certainly influenced by the larger corpus size. Still, rock (collectively) is more common at Brown than elsewhere: 48%, compared to 23% at Colorado and 33% at Arizona State.

Love vs. hate

There’s a lot of love, and not much hate at Brown. 13 names appear as the objects of affection, and “you” appears six times for love and three times for hate. There’s a wide variety of sexually-tinged objects of affection, from “hot wet pussy” to “hot eunuchs” to “girlfriend’s vagina”. In a corpus this large, it’s remarkable how few things Brown students hate.


There are seven clear examples of homophobia in the Brown corpus, and two ambiguous examples (“VJB likes men” and “Why are there so many homosexuals at Brown?”), the latter of which has the response “Stop homophobia.” 0.76% – 0.97% of the graffiti show homophobia, depending on how you count the ambiguous data. “Fag[got] is used twice as often as “gay”, and the corpus also includes the term “butt-chugger”.

Sexual vs. non-sexual

Given how sexual the Brown graffiti corpus is overall (10% of the graffiti was categorized as “sex”, the most common category), one might expect more sexual use of “fuck”, “suck” and “ass” than in the other corpora. That’s definitely the case for “suck” and “ass”: “suck” is used sexually 45% of the time, vs. 27% at ASU and 12% at the University of Colorado. “Ass” appears twice (vaguely) sexually at ASU and five times non-sexually at University of Colorado, but the 15 examples of “ass” at Brown are split about evenly between sexual and non-sexual uses. Perhaps most interesting, though, is the use of the word “fuck” at Brown. It’s used sexually 20% of the time at ASU, and 24% of the time at the University of Colorado, but less than 10% of the time at Brown.

See for yourself

The spreadsheets I used to compile the data are available as a Google Doc. If you want to download the data for yourself, just go to File > Download and choose your favorite format. If you do something interesting with the data, I’d love to hear about it (quinn – at – crescatgraffiti – dot – com). You can also browse the photo set on Flickr.

Next up

To finish out the year, the last part of the analysis will focus on the University of Chicago, where this whole project began. In addition to the usual metrics, the UChicago analysis includes a second-look at the time-based analysis that was part of the original pseudo-scientific analysis.

* I hate the US News & World Report rankings, particularly the way the admissions office at UChicago has been eager to bend over backwards to improve their score, to the detriment of the school’s unique “personality”. But in case you’re curious, Brown University is ranked at #15.

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