Appalachian State University is restricting unauthorized students from chalking on its sidewalks following a controversy over racially charged messages written around campus.
The confrontation ensued after minority students attempted to wash away the chalk, prompting a conversation about free speech on campus. The incident led to heightened safety concerns, said Megan Hayes, ASU spokesperson, in an email.
The decision, a revision of the school’s facilities policy, limits the use of chalk to the promotion of student organizations and university events. Under the policy revision, unauthorized chalk writing is considered graffiti.
Reactions to the changes from the ASU community have been mixed, Hayes said. Some students believe the revision hinders free speech while others believe it’s a step in the right direction to creating a safer learning environment.
Finding a balance between creating an inclusive campus and protecting free speech can often be difficult for universities, said Bill Marshall, law professor at UNC-Chapel Hill.
“Free speech on college campuses is critically important,” he said. “It was a long, hard-fought battle for college students to get those rights.”
Hayes said all chalking on ASU’s campus was prohibited prior to January 2015, when it was relaxed. Though the policy change was not prompted by political messages, similar incidents on other college campuses have been related to the election.
In March, nearly 100 chalk messages appeared on the Emory University campus expressing support for Donald Trump, which some students said targeted minorities.
UNC-Wilmington sent an email to its students clarifying its chalking policy Sept. 22. The school now permits chalking on campus sidewalks as long as the content is not obscene, vulgar or libelous.
Anna Wu, associate vice chancellor for facilities services at UNC-CH, said chalking at UNC is largely unrestricted.
“On Carolina’s campus, chalk messaging is prohibited on buildings, but there is no policy against writing in chalk on outside sidewalk areas,” Wu said.
Chalking at UNC has had some controversy associated with it in the past.
Last September, a conflict took place after an anti-abortion group wrote chalk messages around campus, prompting a pro-abortion rights organization to erase the words.
ASU administrators hope the policy will help move the campus community from conflict to productive conversation.
“The change in the chalking policy is one very small piece of a much larger effort to facilitate dialogue and discussion around deep-seated, difficult issues our country has struggled with since its inception,” Hayes said.