Sophomore Kari Johnson got her tattoo of the word “shalom” in cursive because of a class about the subject she took last year at Whitworth’s Costa Rica campus. “I had been thinking for a while, and I kept going back and forth,” Johnson said. “I think [when] leaving that class ... that’s when I thought, ‘That’s what I want. That’s what I want for my first tattoo.’”
Tattoos may be more popular on Whitworth’s campus than at first appearance. In fact, a little less than half of Whitworth students surveyed have a tattoo, and 46 percent of students said they would get one, according to a voluntary survey of 100 Whitworth students.
Johnson plans to get at least two more tattoos at some point.
“It’s true that they’re addictive,” Johnson said. “I wanted [the tattoos] to be meaningful, something that was a story and not just pretty.”
Senior Taylor Powell said she also got her tattoos with meaning behind them. Although Powell got her first tattoo when she was 18, the decision to get a tattoo came when she was younger.
“I was probably around 13,” Powell said. “It was right after my grandma passed away and I knew that I wanted to get something for her. It’s one of those expressions of art that I get to live with. I enjoy them. Yes, they’re painful, but they’re worth it in the end.”
Powell has two tattoos. One is a rose in which her grandmother’s ashes are mixed in with the ink. The other is a heart symbol with the word “love” written inside it.
Powell would also like to get another tattoo, she said. Although some people may still judge her based on the assumptions that tattoos are rebellious, she doesn’t care, she said.
“It’s not on your body and you don’t have to look at it,” Powell said. “They’re mine, not anybody else’s.”
Although 70 percent of students in the voluntary survey said tattoos do not carry a bad connotation, several students responded firmly in the opposite direction. A number of answers included references to gangs or jail, and some also said that tattoos defile the body, which is an argument that has been made by some religious people for years. However, many others stated they think tattoos are art or a form of expression.
Keith Wyma, an associate professor of philosophy, said he believes tattoos aren’t as much of an issue as some people make them out to be. Wyma got his own tattoo, an Ethiopian cross, when the Whitworth Ethics Bowl team won a national championship. He told the team that if they won, he would get a tattoo. When the team succeeded in their goal, Wyma kept his promise.
“[The team] was very pleased that I now bear on my body the marks of their victory,” he said. “I guess you could call it a coach’s incentive.”
Wyma’s family and church tradition raised him to believe tattoos were unacceptable. But now he sees them differently, he said.
“Over time, I came to think they’re just not a big deal here. I don’t think they’re theologically weighty,” he said. “You put a picture on your body, so what?”
Although he believes the negative connotations with tattoos are significantly less today than they were when he was a kid, Wyma also said that the stereotypes have not entirely gone away.
“Nobody really cares if you have a tattoo, but people still care that you look professional,” he said. “As the highly-tattooed generation gets older, they may not care about that stuff.”
Andrew Pyrc, assistant director of Career Services, said tattoos are becoming more acceptable in the workplace in general. However, he also said students going into positions where they must represent a company or organization may still need to cover their tattoos on the job because of possibly offending people or because of the need to appear professional.
“I would say it’s becoming more acceptable, but it really depends on your industry and the type of tattoo,” Pyrc said. “You also have to ask yourself, do you really want to work for a place that is not accepting of tattoos?”
Senior Cassi Curtis agrees that the stereotypes with tattoos still exist. Curtis has three tattoos herself, one of which was recently acquired.
“I think that visible tattoos instantly get a negative connotation. It’s seen as a rebellious thing or a gang affiliation,” she said. “I just think people have a really jaded perspective on who gets tattoos and what they get tattoos of.”
Curtis also grew up believing tattoos were immoral. She said her mother got one when Curtis was around 10, and in response her whole family sat down to talk about how they used to view tattoos and how their views were changing.
“It was still kind of a taboo [subject],” she said. “I understood [tattoos] and appreciated them. The more I thought about it, the more I thought, ‘I might want to do this.’”
Curtis said that most of her fellow students seem to also appreciate tattoos, although older people might not.
“I’ve actually gotten really positive feedback. I think it’s kind of a generational thing, like our parents’ age and older [disapprove of tattoos],” Curtis said. “But I think our generation is more kind and accepting about it.”
Regardless of whether tattoos are seen as an act of rebellion, a symbol of being in a gang, or something beautiful to the wearer, Curtis said she loves getting to see others’ tattoos.
“It’s just a form of self-expression. It’s really interesting to see what people choose to put on their own bodies,” Curtis said. “[Tattoos are] great conversation starters. Because so many of mine are about my faith, I get to tell them about the gospel.”
Meghan Dellinger Staff Writer
Contact Meghan Dellinger at firstname.lastname@example.org