On Friday, May 3, the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) will present a resolution to end the ban on chalking to the University administration. The resolution, introduced by Student Affairs Committee member Scott Elias ’14, passed in the WSA with 25 Assembly members in favor and 2 opposed.
Committee members involved in drafting the resolution proposed that chalking should be subject to the same regulations as poster placement, as explained in the Communications section of the Student Handbook. According to this policy, students can report posters that they consider to be offensive to the Chief Diversity Officer, who then reviews the posters and determines whether or not to remove them. According to the resolution, this system should also encompass chalking.
“Our resolution was just to put [chalking] in line with other forms of communication,” said WSA Academic Affairs Committee member Jesse Ross-Silverman ’13.
Chalking was banned at the University in 2003 under President Douglas Bennet; President Roth never changed the policy. Students have since been trying to develop various ways of allowing chalking on the campus again.
“The chalking moratorium, as it stands now, doesn’t necessarily achieve what it means to achieve,” said Chair of the WSA Finance and Facilities Committee Andrew Trexler ’14. “And at the same time [it] prevents constructive dialogue [that could potentially resolve] those same issues of harassment and abuse of community members through chalking.”
The ban was initially put in place after several University staff members filed a complaint that they had to walk over chalking that they felt created a hostile work environment due to its graphic and over-sexualized nature. Vice President for Academic Affairs Michael Whaley said he does not feel the resolution is an adequate solution to the problems of the past.
“My thinking is, if somebody, say, posts either hostile messages or images on my office door everyday, it’s not really a remedy to say to me, ‘Oh you just have to report it and have it removed,’” Whaley said. “That’s not really an adequate remedy from a sexual harassment standpoint. If you know or can reasonably predict that it’s going to happen, you as an employer actually have to do something more than that to remedy it. And so I think that the current resolution doesn’t really pass that test.”
WSA members believe, however, that the resolution will be a positive change for the University and that there are more productive alternatives to completely banning chalking.
“We’re clearly articulating that we understand [the administration’s] concerns, we just think we have a better institutional mechanism to deal with it,” Elias said. “Especially with the advent of technology, we can create an app where you can have a geographic tag where the chalk is and put it on the campus climate log…. I think, honestly, this could really be good.”
Elias, one of the co-creators of the resolution, believes that the ban on chalking restricts University students’ right to free speech.
“Ideally, I think chalking would be allowed because personally I’m a big proponent of free speech,” Elias said. “But I think the reality is the institution because it’s a private university, sort of does have that right to restrict and regulate [chalking], but I think a better way of regulating it would be with our resolution.”
Elias also noted that Eric Stephen ’13, who wrote a Wespeak on the issue, spoke to the WSA about chalking at the University.
“Eric brought in an interesting perspective because I had initially been looking at it as it wasn’t consistent with our idea of valuing free expression,” Elias said. “He brought up the idea it might be unconstitutional according to Connecticut state law.”
Another concern that the WSA raised about the chalking ban is the amount of money the University pays to remove chalking. According to the resolution, the University spent $12,037 in 2012 to remove chalking.
“[The University has] to contract a unionized subcontracter to come and wash it away every time,” Ross-Silverman said. “People were going out and looking for chalking and were required to report it so it could be washed away. And that seemed absurd to me and a lot of other people. I remember last year when there was a meeting about affordability, somebody actually asked Michael Roth directly how much it costs the school to wash away chalking, and he refused to answer.”
Whaley said that although he recognized the expense of removing the chalking, it was still necessary for the University to spend the money to create a friendly work and school environment.
“Well, yeah, it would remedy the cost, but I imagine there would be others in our community who might argue that if you have to spend [money] that’s still a reasonable investment for you to remedy the situation of…having to work in a hostile work environment,” Whaley said.
Ross-Silverman says that he believes chalking is just another way for students to express feelings and opinions in a setting where there is not much room for students to do so.
“It especially allows the administration to punish students for speaking out against them,” Ross-Silverman said. “We don’t really have a lot of tools as students to affect the school and if people are making the chalkings against the administration and outsiders come and see that, that’s more powerful than anything we can do individually. And we should have that right to communicate that.”
Whaley is concerned that chalking could turn into something resembling the College Anonymous Confession Board (ACB), where students can post anonymously and not be held accountable for their posts. He explained that he would rather ban chalking than have to subject students to possibly hurtful anonymous comments.
“The problem is that if people are just scrawling in the dark of night with chalk, they don’t necessarily have to own that stuff,” Whaley said. “So then you kind of move towards ACB stuff where you don’t have to own your speech or its effect on other people.”