The second such vandalization since the Russian invasion leaves former Peace Corps volunteer frustrated.
Over the past several months, two pro-Ukrainian posters have been defaced on campus. The first, defaced in April, was a poster containing information about donating to a Polish organization looking to equip Ukrainian journalists with body armor. The second poster, defaced in late October, was a list of suggested talking points about the war.
For Connor O’Brien, putting up posters has been a way to express his outrage over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
O’Brien is a former student, having graduated last spring. He learned about the most recent defacing in the “SAIS for Ukraine” group chat that he set up the previous school year. This poster, which had been hanging in the Nitze basement for several months, was annotated with critiques of his suggested talking points on the war:
O’Brien’s deep familiarity with Ukraine began with his Peace Corps service from 2016-2018. He taught English in the small town of Polonne. “I still remember watching CNN in the Nitze lobby the night the war began, frantically calling all of my friends and students in Kyiv to make sure they were safe,” he recalled, “[These] posters were a way for me to try and spark action at SAIS, because I think [our community] should be very focused on this.”
The Nitze basement is home to the “Ukraine wall”, which is a collection of posters with messages and information that support Ukraine’s military defense effort. O’Brien’s poster had been hanging untouched since March. “I have not been to the Nitze building in months, but from what I hear, the wall of flyers I put up is still there in the student lounge,” the SAIS graduate said.
O’Brien told the Observer that he contacted a university official about the first defacing in April and received no response. The school official could not provide a public statement at the time of publication.
O’Brien also shared broader frustrations with SAIS’s response to the conflict. “I’d like to see the University do more to show support for Ukraine. I think it’s odd that Russia’s flag is still in the Nitze Lobby while the school has declined student requests to put up a Ukrainian one. I’d also love to see more student discussion on the war. Just my two cents.
I also think a different subset of students and faculty are struggling a little bit because of how deceptively simple the situation is in many ways. As scholars, we try to parse out the multiple layers surrounding issues. International Relations is often complicated, but in this case, it is rather quite simple. A country attacked another and is trying to steal territory while ignoring its right to exist. You don’t really get any more clear cut than that. The problem is, in many ways, too simple for all of the tools we are so used to using in this field, so some try to find subtleties when they simply are not there. There is a clear good guy and bad guy.”
For now, the vandalizer, or vandalizers, remain anonymous.
O’Brien, on the other hand, continues to attempt to move the conversation into the public eye. In the school-wide Signal chat, after posting a photo of the vandalized poster, he wrote:
“Whoever did this, my offer from last year still stands. If you honestly believe that Russia is in the right for launching this war of aggression, reveal yourself and I’ll gladly debate you publicly and explain why Ukraine is 100% justified in fighting for its existence. My name is Connor O’Brien and I’m not afraid to say what I believe in. Are you?”
As of yet, his offer has not been taken up.
[Connor is part of a team raising money to purchase two power generators for use in a medical clinic and a schoolhouse in Kyinka, Ukraine. You can donate to his fundraiser here.]