Inked at Union College

An exploration of tattoos on campus

Katie Morrison

Tattoos are popular. There’s no doubt about it. From the all engrossing back tats and intricate sleeves to the delicate “basic girl” arrows, there’s a tattoo that can appeal to everyone. Even those who aren’t completely sure they want something permanent can test out the crazed “flash tattoos.” These are temporary metallic tattoos, generally Aztec design or jewelry inspired and most definitely intended for the female persuasion. I was able to get some stories from actual Unionites who took the plunge and got the real deal.

Chaz Spellman has about a dozen tattoos, everything from his bottom lip to his feet. Each came from personal inspirations, namely his family and his background in the military. “The vast majority of the time, the only reaction I get to my tattoos is someone saying they like them and that they’re cool,” the senior theology major said. When asked if having tattoos at an Adventist school whose stance towards them is apathetic at best, he said he hasn’t noticed an effect personally. “People are generally accepting and even those who hate tattoos ought to understand that we all have a past. Some can just hide theirs better,” he added.

Caleb Freitag, a junior IRR major, and Ben Holms, a senior communications major, hold similar viewpoints on tattoos. Both thought hard before their decisions to get inked and still love their tattoos. “A lot of people are very quick to judge, not necessarily me as an individual because of my tattoo, but the results that they assume will take place because of it,” said Freitag. “They will say things like, ‘it’s going to make it hard for you to get a job’. I obviously considered all of that before I got it but the meaning of the tattoo itself is more important to me than the potential consequences.”

Holms expressed his intense fascination as a way of being in touch with his identity. “I’ve always been intrigued by tattoos as well as other body modification (piercings, branding, implants, scarring). For me, it’s all a part of my culture,” he said. “I’m surrounded by it and only wish to contribute to it. I was hugely inspired by the events that transpired in my life.” I asked about some of the reactions he’s received from Adventists about his tattoos and he said they ranged from the extremes. Being raised Adventist, he was taught the classic Adventist stance: no tattoos. But growing up, Holms ignored what others thought of him and remained true to himself. “My tattoos have made me feel different,” he said. “I realized early on that I’m far different than most Adventists and I suspect I always will be.”

Another Unionite with some crazy stories behind her tattoos is Meredith Nichols, a junior IRR major. She has three tattoos: one in memory of her grandmother; a compass with Isaiah 6:8 to remind her of her purpose and to stay on track; and a bow and arrow to represent her time away from Union, a symbol describing how she had to be pulled back to go forward. “I get a lot of positive feedback from people at Union, at least the students. My grandparents aren’t the happiest about the tattoos,” she admitted, “but they are glad they have a meaning.” She agreed with the others I had interviewed, maintaining the fact that the best tattoos are the ones with stories and meanings, not just because you think it’s cool for a week.

In closing, I have to end with a touch on Adventist beliefs because we’re at an Adventist school. Plenty of old school Adventists frown on tattoos. “I do feel like I need to cover up my tattoos more when I’m out and around campus,” Nichols mentioned. Tattoos are something younger generations are getting interested in. But our view of tattoos should not be harsh. It should not be negative at all. Our main view for all of these things should be one of acceptance. Even if we aren’t participating in them and rushing the nearest tattoo parlor, we should never judge someone who has made the decision to do so. It is not our place. Our job, as Christians, is to love.

Katie is a junior studying business administration.