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Features Humans of Drake

Drake professors discuss tattoo culture

PROFESSOR TIMM PILCHER has approximately 25 tattoos, and has been getting them since he was 26. Some of them have significant personal meaning. PHOTO courtesy of Timm Pilcher.

When student professional and academic support specialist Timm Pilcher got a tattoo on the back of his hand, his artist was skeptical, as it was his first tattoo that was impossible to hide. The tattoo, which is a grouping of colorful stars in the shape of a mushroom cap with his name as the stem, honors his wife’s father.

“When I got this, [the tattoo artist] said, knowing what I did for a living as a public educator, ‘Are you sure you want that there?’ And I said ‘absolutely,’” Pilcher said. “The only reason it’s there is an interesting one. This was from my father-in-law. He had always been fascinated by my tattoos, and he was an old hippie anyways. When he was 70, he got this tattoo in exactly this spot.” 

Pilcher, who now has approximately 25 tattoos, got his first one when he was 26. His most recent was a group of aspen leaves on the back of his arm in August. 

“I play in a couple of bands, and they’re populated by a bunch of 60-year-old white dudes, just like me, and it’s interesting how many of them are very anti-tattoo,” Pilcher said. “‘I would never get a tattoo. Iit’s not professional. I see kids with their tattoos,’ [they say].” 

Another notable tattoo among Pilcher’s 25 is the Gemini symbol on the back of his neck. He intentionally got it so that it would be visible over the top of a collared shirt in a professional setting, hoping that it would spark conversations. 

“I specifically put that there for that reason, that symbol, because it does look kind of like, ‘What could that be?’” Pilcher said. “I wanted it to peek out just to create those conversations [like] ‘[Who] is this person? Is he an ex-gangster? Because nobody has neck tattoos. We just don’t do that.’” 

Drake does not have a dress code related to tattoos for professors. Pilcher, who worked in public education for 30 years prior to coming to Drake, found that his tattoos often assisted him in his work, despite common perceptions that they are unprofessional. 

“They would come in and say ‘Can I speak to an administrator?’ and I would say, ‘You are.’ You could immediately see their perception change from confrontational to more cooperative because I looked like them,” Pilcher said. “I wasn’t some stodgy asshole in a suit and tie. In some ways, it actually helps your professionalism.” 

Philosophy professor Jennifer McCrickerd started getting tattoos later in life at age 30. She said her students inspired her decision to start getting tattoos. 

“It was a moment when a lot of students were getting tattoos, and so it was on my radar as a thing that I could do,” McCrickerd said. “I’m the sort of person who waits until I have something that I really, really like. I think I might have always had this sort of, ‘If I were going to get a tattoo, it would be this.’ It was sort of on my radar. I just decided [that] this is an image that I have liked a lot for almost all of my adult life, and so I’m willing to commit to it.” 

McCrickerd agrees that her tattoos do not conflict with her ability to be professional. She has not noticed specifically being judged for having tattoos, although it could have happened.

“I think the fact that I’m a professor already, it’s entirely possible that my job means people already put me in another category of sort of like, ‘Oh, she’s going to be odd anyway, so this is just another oddity,’” McCrickerd said. 

McCrickerd has one full-arm sleeve, another partial arm sleeve, a tattoo on her back and one on her ankle. The tattoos on her right arm are all notable buildings from the course of her life, including the building that housed the philosophy department at her college. 

“The tattoo that I have, which I’m probably going to be getting covered at some point — it doesn’t quite work — is the skylight in the [Oreon Scott Chapel] from underneath,” McCrickerd said. “It’s cool in concept, but it looks more like a flying saucer. If you didn’t know what it was, you would be mystified. It just didn’t land the way that I hoped it would have.”

Tattoos are an opportunity for conversation for McCrickerd, and she sees them as a way of putting herself out into conversations. 

“I know that whenever I meet somebody with tattoos, you just know something about them,” McCrickerd said. “There’s always the opportunity for a good conversation. It’s almost like, particularly in this day and age, when people are not inclined to talk to people that they don’t know, having tattoos is an invitation for conversation. There is a sort of choice to be a certain way in the world.” 

There are certain economic connotations that come with having tattoos as well, McCrickerd said. She wishes she would have considered these implications more thoroughly before getting tattoos. 

“I also recognize that the choice I’ve made, and this is not intentional, but I know that it’s a consequence. It does also demonstrate privilege at the same time because they’re expensive,” McCrickerd said. “I am very aware of that, and I think that, if anything was to give me pause, that should have been what gave me pause, is what a sort of flagrant statement of disposable income that I have. If I’d thought more about that, perhaps I wouldn’t have gotten them. I don’t know.” 

For those interested in getting a tattoo, there is a tattoo shop presence near campus: Yankee Doodle Dandy Tattoo located in Dogtown. Ultimately, Pilcher sees different ways of dressing and expressing himself as different costumes. Although more permanent, tattoos, to Pilcher, are just another one of his costumes. 

“When we adorn ourselves, when we pierce ourselves or we tattoo ourselves or whatever we do, we just sort of have to start to look at that as a more permanent costume,” Pilcher said. “Does that change the perception of how good you are or your skill level at doing what you do? Does putting ink on your body make you any less or more? No. Because to me, again, it goes back to putting a costume on.”

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