Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) will host an upcoming event to protest the ban on chalking at Wesleyan. To advertise the event, SDS has posted two different fliers around campus, one asking students if they think it is “fucked up” that chalking was banned, and another associating the chalking movement with a number of other Left-wing ideas (which for some reason include baseball) with which the group generally holds sympathy.
Having had considerable time to ponder the query posed by the first poster, my answer is emphatically in agreement with SDS’s position“it is quite “fucked up” that chalking is banned at the University. However, what puzzles me is that the second poster, though it associates chalking with concepts as exceedingly complex as they are Left-leaning, fails to associate opposition to the chalking ban with one very simple, easily understandable concept: Freedom”specifically, the freedom of speech.
I am not aware of what the rationale is behind disallowing chalking on campus, though I am aware of several speculative reasons for the ban. Perhaps the administration’s feathers have simply been ruffled too many times. Perhaps it does not wish for prospective students to see the politically opinionated nature of the University’s current matriculates. Perhaps it is simply uncomfortable with the sexual nature of a great many chalkings. Perhaps it worries that chalking is impossible to police because of the anonymity associated with the activity. Whatever reason the administration adopts for the policy, however, I think that in order for the ban to be justified, the University would have to produce ironclad reasoning showing that allowing students to exercise their freedom of speech is more detrimental than banning certain forms of expression. However, I cannot think of any such justification that cannot be easily refuted.
Let’s begin with the obvious reason, that chalking is banned because it irritates University officials. Clearly, this is a weak argument. After all, you don’t see me telling the Argus to remove the Wespeaks section because I’ve received disagreeable Wespeaks in response to my columns. Furthermore, if the University is silencing chalking simply because it is dissent, then the administration must worship at the feet of Mao and Stalin, for this line of thought about freedom of speech has never been advocated by anyone but communist/fascist dictators. American universities oughtn’t accept such arguments with regard to freedom of speech since the United States itself has triumphed over both communism and fascism and since, with the exception of budding sociologists, nobody seriously advocates either philosophy today.
Or, chalking may be banned because it can send a negative message to pre-frosh. If this is the reason, then we are observing a classic example of administrative fraud. To put it bluntly, if the administration keeps chalking banned in order to make the University look less extreme, then the administration expects prospective students to believe that Wesleyan, despite its extremist liberal reputation, is a completely neutral, totally unbiased, whitewashed paradise where a vampire and a Republican can walk down the street with equal ease and neither one will get a stake driven through their heart. Speaking as someone whose time on this campus has imbued him with a lifelong fear of wooden stakes, I know this is not true, and I think the administration knows it is not true as well. So why are they trying to entice conservative students onto this campus through deception?
Make no mistake, I’m all for more conservative viewpoints on campus. However, what I’m not for are conservative students who are so unbelievably cowardly that they will be intimidated by pavement that is covered in soundbites stolen from the Daily Kos, some of which are barely legible due to the untidy scrawl of chalking advocates. I also seriously doubt that any conservative students would be intimidated by chalking, since most conservatives and, indeed, most Republicans in general have nothing but contempt for political correctness and its root idea that words alone are sufficient to destroy peoples’ cultural identity. If the administration wants to attract conservatives, sugar-coating the campus will not be the most effective strategy. In fact, the ban will probably frighten away a great many conservative prospective students because of the implication that, if the administration can ban chalking for being too liberal, then it can restrict all sorts of other forms of speech for being too conservative.
Or, chalking may be banned because certain sexually tinged writing (such as the infamous assertion that “precum is sexy,” which mysteriously materialized on the pavement last year) will damage the University’s image.
While I certainly agree that certain chalking advocates could stand to learn a little self-restraint, I don’t think that this is a justification for punishing all of the chalkers who use the medium for perfectly respectable purposes. Furthermore, it is pure intellectual dishonesty to suggest that chalking is the sole cause of these disgracefully debauched expressions. Eclectic’s posters for the Sex Party, for one thing, were quite beyond the pale of decency. Surely the administration wouldn’t propose to ban putting up posters because Eclectic has no sense of propriety?
With regard to the point that anonymity makes the punishment of selected types of chalking impossible, while it certainly is true that it would be impossible to punish students for chalking blatantly inappropriate statements on the street, this is true of all chalking. Moreover, the threat of punishment clearly does not serve as a deterrent, since the amount of chalking has not decreased with the ban in place; punishing the students responsible will not solve the problem of chalking, inappropriate or otherwise. If the administration must censor chalking rather than waste time and money prosecuting people who inscribe inappropriate comments on the pavement, what it ought to do is to focus on mitigating the effects of harmful chalking by erasing inappropriate instances of it. This strategy would save the cleaning costs of wiping the entire campus clean, and would also preserve the instances of chalking which are actually useful, such as the advertisements for various speaking events.
Whatever strategy the administration adopts to combat chalking, however, one thing is certain: if the ban is not lifted, we should chalk it up to administrative cowardice.