Teachers share stories behind their tattoos

Patrick Carberry, assistant professor of English composition, displayed his sleeve tattoo on March 15, 2023. Comprised of multiple designs coming from different tattooing sessions, Carberry stated that his fox, bull, and bird tattoo can represent his love of animals, even though he said that the tattoo doesn’t have a concrete meaning.

On her upper thigh, Nicole DeKasha is a professor of English and a tutor in the Write Place program. DeKasha was affected by a loss in her family and decided to switch her approach to tattooing. She no longer chooses cool designs but instead receives meaningful art.

After falling asleep listening to an audiobook on his laptop, Assistant Professor of English Composition Patrick Carberry’s leg was left scalded due to his device’s cheap charger overheating while it was plugged into the wall. Carberry fell asleep through the entire ordeal and woke up with a large burn on his leg.

“I hated the scar, so I always [wanted] to do something to counterbalance the scar or…to appease the anxiety I felt about my body because of the scar,” Carberry said. “So the first tattoo was a counterbalance to the scar I had.”

The tattoo, located on his lower right calf, was done to offset his feelings regarding the scar on his left leg.

Located on his left arm are many tattoos that can be described as a “sleeve,” comprised of multiple designs that were inked onto his arm at different times in his life. One of the most notable designs on Carberry’s sleeve is a live oak sapling, which protrudes from the background of his animal tattoos.

Carberry reached out to his favorite tattoo artist but didn’t hear back. He applied for an ECC position and, after applying, visited the American South where he saw live oak saplings. 

“I use acorns as worrying stones when I’m stressed about something or when I’m working on something serious,” Carberry said. “…I picked up this live oak acorn [in the South] This is my concern stone when applying for a job [ECC] I was working on.”

He was waiting outside, anxiously waiting for his interview at ECC. But then he got an unexpected message. 

“I get an email from the tattoo artist saying, ‘I had a cancellation tomorrow, I’d love to [the tattoo] You can wear this sapling on one arm. Can you come to Dover, New York tomorrow?’ It kind of seemed like the thing I was using to stress about the job […] seemed to align,” Carberry said. 

Carberry considers tattoos a way to feel more at home in his body.

“[My tattoos] represent me,” Carberry said. “It’s a part of my body; it’s how I see myself interacting with the world around me.”


Sarah Bass, Professor of English Composition, spoke about the history behind her tattoos. The first was a meaningful quote that she wore on her wrist.

She had left her Christian home to go to college at the time she received the art on her wrist. 

“I don’t want to say that it was a rebellious thing to do, but [at the time], Christians didn’t get tattoos,” Bass said. “So for me, …I was like, ‘What is wrong with a tattoo,’ so it corresponded to me questioning the legalism within my faith and what’s considered to be a good follower of Christ.”

The quote on her wrist, which says, “Via Crucis,” which is Latin for, “The Way of the Cross,” helps to remind her the way of faith and following Christ is much harder than she thought and how that idea would come to impact her life later. 

“I think [the purpose of the tattoo] was me reorienting going to a secular place to find out what I thought about my faith,” Bass said in terms of the story and inspiration behind her wrist tattoo. “For me, it was set on a resolve, but it was also supposed to be a reminder for me that… if I called myself a follower of Jesus, was it going to be an easy one?”

Bass’ second tattoo, two leaves of holly, one on each of her collarbones, commemorates the memory of two important people in her life. 

“Holly represents the season of Christmas [but] Christmas for me has a very different connotation,” Bass said. “Eleven years ago, my fiancé died, ten days before Christmas, suddenly, and then two years ago, my father died…on October 1, which very much marks the holiday season. You enter into October and even though it’s Halloween, it’s very much into the season of Christmas… and Advent, which is the approach of something.”

To Bass, the “approach of something” is associated with the approach of death, creating a distorted disconnection between the “external expression of celebration” and how hard and unexpected her life has been in light of these seasonal holidays. 

“Holly for me represented there’s still a hope…for me in just the fact that there’s still green amidst all this death,” Bass said. “I think for me, it’s looking at the light and darkness and death as being a place that’s still fertile, where things can still grow; that’s why I hold onto that and that’s why I chose that, and because, apart from that, it looks pretty.”

Bass was scrutinized by the conservative Christian community where she grew up because of her tattoos However, she said that her pilgrimage at a liberal college helped her grow in faith.

In terms of today’s blooming tattoo culture, Bass expressed her positive outlook on the highly debated subject. 

“I think it’s cool,” Bass said. “I [also] think that my stigma has changed as I’ve gotten older [and] Some tattoos I believe are better than others. …For me, [tattoos] are an aspect of personal expression and I think it correlates to the desire for self-expression for people.”

A Scrapbook

Nicole DeKasha is a Professor of English, and Write Place Tutor, and spoke about one of her six tattoos. It has an emotional and deep meaning. 

In terms of feelings and anxieties leading up to the day of tattooing, DeKasha said that she wasn’t particularly concerned about the Act She was considering getting a tattoo, even though she had been through it before. The feelings Behind the subject matter of her tattoo were closely related to her mental state at the time. 

“It was a tattoo that was very emotionally significant to me, so I would say that I was feeling a little bit emotionally rot[ten]However, I was also honoring someone I loved so I felt good about it [and] I felt excited about that,” DeKasha said.

In 2014, DeKasha’s sister Angie passed away, which caused a monumental shift in her way of picking out and receiving tattoos. 

“She was my best friend,” DeKasha said. “The tattoos I had before that were more, like, ‘Oh, I like this design so I’m going to get a tattoo of it.’ This was a different stage of getting tattoos for me and it was more about getting a tattoo that was more emotionally significant.”

DeKasha says she chose the design and colors she felt her sister would like, even though she was not a tattoo artist. 

“Every time I look at it, she’s the person that I think of,” DeKasha said. “I don’t want to say that it’s my most precious tattoo because my other tattoos also commemorate something that matters to me, but in some ways, it is my most precious tattoo because I was so close to her and her loss was so catastrophic.”

DeKasha believes tattooing is a deeply personal and long-lasting commitment.

“Even though there are people who get [tattoos] spur of the moment, I think most people, and especially people who have beautiful…pieces that were specifically designed for them, it isn’t just a thing on their skin,” DeKasha said. “It is a way of measuring a lifetime and what happens in that lifetime. …You look at older generations who might have scrapbooks and photo albums, …but [tattoos] in some ways are very similar to that; having a tattoo on your skin is like putting together a scrapbook of things that meant the most to you.” 

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