Over the past few weeks Appalachian students have taken to the sidewalks to express their political opinions through chalk, starting a debate about free speech on campus.
“The actual political chalking such as ‘Trump 2016’ are not causing problems. It’s the rhetoric and chalkings that say things like ‘Privilege is an excuse for minorities failures’ that are inexcusable and cause problems,” Student Body President Jalyn Howard said. “I do believe the administration should get involved when safety becomes a concern and students feel threatened or unsafe on campus.”
Captain William Corley of ASU Campus Police said that officers responding to a chalking disturbance last week were only attempting to keep the peace.
“The problem was you had a civil disturbance, which then becomes a police matter,” Corley said. “Since they weren’t getting along, he basically addressed both groups and requested that they disperse — just based on the civil disturbance, because we couldn’t go off and leave them in that state because [it] probably would’ve turned into physical confrontation.”
Howard said the chalkings, since they take place at night, fail to facilitate dialogue.
“I believe the best way to engage in these types of conversion is through sustained dialogue that respects all participants and allows for everyone’s opinion to be discussed and heard. If it is a emotional or passionate topic there should probably be a moderator there to ensure the conversation remains respectful and productive.” Howard said.
Earlier this week Chancellor Everts notified the campus of an amendment to the university’s chalking policy saying only organizations officially recognized by the university promoting a specific event can chalk and must identify their organization within the chalk message.
Previously students and faculty were free to write whatever they pleased, provided their messages were written in water soluble chalk and in a spot where the rain could easily wash it away.
Paul Gates, Faculty Senate Chair, said the senate acted quickly to make a resolution addressing the racially charged chalk messages.
“It was the events of that night [that prompted] the resolution. It was racial stuff. We thought that this is the kind of thing that the Senate ought to condemn,” Gates said.
Gates said while the resolution nominally addresses racial bias, it is intended to support any underrepresented groups on campus.
The chalkers, who declined to be named for this story, said they feel that they are underrepresented as conservatives on campus.
“Underrepresented is just a numerical thing; that’s how you get to be underrepresented. College campuses, college faculty tend to have a reputation as being very liberal,” Gates said. “And so, that leads to conservative faculty and conservative students feel that their voices aren’t heard. So hence the chalking. And that’s the way they chose to do it, unfortunately.”
Gates said the fact that the chalking happens during the middle of the night is of particular concern to the university.
“It’s only the cowardly, hateful people who operate under the cover of darkness,” Gates said. “I think that maybe explains the difference between that and literature. No one’s going to be preaching on the mall at 3 A.M. No one’s going to be handing out anything at 3 A.M. You do it in the dark of night so when the sun comes up, people start walking around, there it is.”
Ayako Nakano, SGA Chief of Staff, said the resolution suppresses expression and that protecting underrepresented students could be better done in other ways like reducing wait times for seeing a psychologist on campus and hiring psychologists of color.
“I personally see this as a violation of our freedom to express ourselves. I do not think this resolution properly address the recent chalking events, but I also do not believe it is the job of an institution to intervene with students’ political expression,” SGA Chief of Staff Ayako Nakano said.
Nakano said that the SGA has discussed the matter and hope to work with faculty in amending the policy to protect freedom of expression.
Howard said the presidential election has been energizing dialogue on campus.
“The campus is definitely geared up for this election. Many people have registered to vote and over 300 people attended the debate watch party,” Howard said. “The biggest impact of this election is the conversations it is forcing our school and community to have with each other.”
Story by Angela McLinton, News Reporter