When Lauren Barrow, Ph.D., assistant professor of criminal justice, first conceived of the special topics course, Social Construction of Deviance through Tattoo Art, she had only a framework of how the semester would unfold.
The intent was for students to examine the history, culture, art and misconceptions of tattoos. In the course proposal, she wrote, “the project explores the historical significance of using one’s body as a canvas from tribal paint to modern body art … and relies on the shifting social definitions of deviance in the presentation of the information.”
Her purpose was to deconstruct societal perceptions of deviance as it pertains to tattoos. And then the course evolved.
Through discussion, the students wondered if there was a rational reason that tattoos deepen the perception of deviance. They were asked to consider, deeply, their own perceptions and how those beliefs might change over time as they learned more about the background of the body art that is, indeed, an art form.
“Tattoos were not even legal in New York City between 1961 and 1997. The religious community felt they defiled God’s perfect creation—the body—and the medical community was afraid of an epidemic,” explains Barrow when discussing some of the surprising facts they uncovered.
The students created their own tattoos based on something about themselves they wouldn’t normally offer up in conversation. That ongoing self-reflection was a major element of the course. And Barrow hoped they would begin to recognize traits in themselves they hadn’t before. They drew them and wrote a detailed background outlining their choice of art. The 18 resulting tattoos were then drawn on two mannequins, a male and female, which have been stationed in Logue Library ever since.
The course attracted the attention of Pat Gallen, a reporter for CBS3 in Philadelphia, who visited campus with a videographer in late February. The resulting news piece was aired on March 8 and can be seen on the CBS3 website.
The course was made possible thanks to the generous funding of the Maguire Foundation. An in-depth story about this course, the tattoos and students’ experiences will appear in late May in the spring edition of Chestnut Hill College magazine.