It didn’t take long for students to realize that the January Term Inquiry Seminar they had registered for was anything but the average freshman writing class.
Titled “Tattoos, Piercings and Postmodern Identities,” the class was taught by Gennie Harris, assistant professor of Multicultural Education.
The idea for the class came to Harris as she was reading an article about how tattoo parlors are spaces of agency. She then took action to build the class and learn the skills needed to teach it.
The first two weeks of the class focused on the basics of academic research and writing along with the topic of body modification. The focus of body modification expanded well beyond tattoos and piercings and included plastic surgery and cultural traditions among other topics.
Each form of body modification was connected through various identities using a postmodern lens. These identities included gender, sexuality, cultures, religion, etc.
Students were asked to consider their own identities and discourses compared to the class content. The second half of the short term included a novel study of “Snowflower and the Secret Fan” by Lisa See and focused on completing the final research paper.
During the final week of class, Harris organized a field trip to the Bad Kitties tattoo parlor in Newberg. She explained that the purpose of the trip was to experience the environment that students had been studying and have the opportunity to meet and interview tattoo artists.
Only a handful of the students in the class had a tattoo of their own, so for many, this field trip was a new venture.
The plan was to take Linfield vans to the parlor, spend some time touring and getting to know the people and environment, then eat an early lunch at a local pizza restaurant. The small tattoo parlor barely fit the 25 students and faculty, along with the three tattoo and piercing artists. At 10 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, there were no body modification customers so the class had exclusive access to Bad Kitties.
While snacking on doughnuts and coffee provided by the manager, Janet, students listened as tattooist Jason “Mr. Clean” told of humorous stories and nicknames for tattoo customers. While Jason and Janet spoke, students flipped through art books looking at tattoo possibilities and explored the small shop and the various tools used on a daily basis.
Just as students began getting restless, Jason asked if anyone was interested in getting a tattoo outline drawn on them. Although several students expressed interest, it was Harris who sat down in the chair, ready for a temporary tattoo outline.
As Jason explained, this step is first taken before the actual needle is used to make the tattoo permanent. Harris chose her left upper forearm as the location for the outline, which had the word “Abundance” written in script with a heart detail. It took a matter of minutes before the outline was complete, but then Jason started up the “machine,” as he called the tattoo needle gun.
The buzzing sound of the needle gun peaked the attention of the students, who could be heard wondering what was about to happen.
“Gennie, are you getting a tattoo?” asked one student. Harris’ response was simply to smile and nod.
“Yes I am,” Harris said.
Students crowded around the tattoo station taking pictures, tweeting, posting on Facebook and simply trying to get a good look at their professor receiving her third tattoo during a class session. The simple tattoo took about half an hour to complete. It is pretty safe to say that never before has a professor tattooed his or her body in front of an entire class.
Harris received her first tattoo while in her Doctoral program. She got a female fairy on her back that is reaching its arms up to the stars. It represents empowerment. After reading “Snowflower and the Secret Fan,” she decided to get cherry blossoms to show how she connected with women who felt like they were bound by aspects in life.
But Harris isn’t the only professor on campus to sport tattoos.
For instance, Chuck Dunn, associate professor of Mathematics has multiple tattoos, ranging from Calvin and Hobbes to a dragon on his right arm.
“There is a notion of being different, which I like,” Dunn said.
On his ankle, he has a gecko with its tail wrapped around a Peterson graph.
The gecko stands for how he lived in Arizona, while the graph was to encourage him to finish his doctorate. Dunn’s sleeve length tattoo instantly catches the eye of his students.
Cris Moss, instructional associate of Art and Visual Culture, has a tattoo of two parallel black lines on his forearm.
“Sometimes, when people ask me about them and what they mean, I tell them it’s about the parallel lives we live that never meet, or some other cheesy, deep meaning description,” Moss said.
He actually got the tattoo because he received a coupon from his sister who won it at a benefit raffle at her son’s school.
Moss instantly knew what he wanted without even glancing through a catalogue.
“I’m not sure where the idea came from but I am glad that I did it,” Moss said.
Emily Jenkins/ For the Review
Ivanna Tucker/ Features editor