Students Against Chalking at Swarthmore

So at Swarthmore, there is actually a divide in the chalking opinion. Some students are taking up hoses and buckets to wash away the pro-queer chalkings that they find offensive. I encourage you to read the article in its entirety because we’re seeing nearly the same thing going on in wespeaks and chalking here:

The chalkings typically attract some degree of controversy, but this year, the debate reached a fever pitch, with about 150 students filling the pews of the Swarthmore Friends Meetinghouse Thursday to debate the merits of the chalkings. The messages and images scrawled around the sidewalks have inspired “counter-chalkings,” passionate dialogue in the pages of the student newspaper and even a Facebook group, “I Have an Opinion About the Coming-Out Week Chalkings,” with 43 members and 123 postings as of Monday afternoon. More ominously to some, they’ve also inspired some localized showers — the administration believes that a couple of the drawings were washed out by students, said Myrt Westphal, associate dean for student life at Swarthmore, a small liberal arts college in Pennsylvania.

A number of particularly explicit and prominent drawings that stand out from those of years past seem to have ignited the intense debate this year, Westphal said: “There was a feeling both in the queer community and outside the queer community that this had gone over the top and actually was hurting the cause of Coming Out Week.”

Among the most controversial chalkings were a “cartoonish” depiction of a female with a “strap-on” device engaged in anal sex with the caption, “Anal Sex is for Everyone,” and a drawing of a vagina on the patio of the college’s dining hall that was intentionally washed away, said Tatiana Cozzarelli, a junior at Swarthmore and one of the organizers of the National Coming Out Week activities, celebrated at Swarthmore the week of October 30.

Other chalkings ranged from combative — “Don’t assume I’m straight and I won’t assume you’re an asshole” — to cutesy, including a drawing of two penguins holding hands with a caption, “Even penguins are gay.” Members of all five of Swarthmore’s queer student groups participated in the chalkings, as did a group of straight allies, Cozzarelli said, although not all members of the college queer community agree with the chalkings.

“The purpose is not necessarily to offend people but to raise the issues and put the issues out there,” said Cozzarelli, who called the chalked images “more political than pornographic.”

“There’s not one message of the chalkings. But some of them challenge heteronormativity and make straight people think about their sexuality in a way they often haven’t in the past.” Cozzarelli cited, for instance, the message, “When did you come out as straight?” — a chalking meant to encourage straight students to question why their sexual identity is privileged in such a way that they typically never had to think in those terms. “When there’s a vagina in front of Sharples [Dining Hall], the idea behind it is for people to look at the vagina and say, ‘Why does this make me uncomfortable?’”

Yet, many students felt not just uncomfortable but offended: As one student posting on a Facebook discussion board on the topic put it, “I just think that it’s kind of remarkable that the explicitly sexual chalkings have managed to offend everyone I’ve talked to who is not in” the Swarthmore Queer Union. The student then cited six main criticisms she’s heard around campus: that the postings assume the students reading them hold positions they do not in fact support, that the chalkings reinforce stereotypes that gay people are obsessed with sex, that the discussion surrounding Coming Out Week ignores debate about social action in favor of more intimate details, that “a sex-positive agenda” is taking precedence over discussion of gay history, identity or rights, that thinking about genitalia in public is a matter of poor taste and that it’s “shocking to see little kids” visiting campus “playing on pictures of masturbating women.”

Students counter-chalked following the original chalkings, and after a rain, gay students chalked again, Westphal said — an escalation of a “chalk talk” that hasn’t been seen in previous years. Cozzarelli said many gay students were disappointed with the counter-chalking, feeling that they had one week per year to express their voices, “not to create a dialogue of voices of people who aren’t normally silenced on top of the chalkings of people who are silenced.” One of the counter-chalkings, “Why don’t you shut the fuck up already?” was particularly upsetting, Cozzarelli said, as it “contributed to this norm of silencing queer people.”

On the other hand, Sven David Udekwu, a sophomore, wrote a letter to Swarthmore’s weekly newspaper, The Phoenix, disagreeing with the notion that gay students are typically silenced at Swarthmore. “It made me feel that everyone in this school has put it into their heads to not allow the queer culture to flourish at any other time of the year,” Udekwu said in a Monday interview. “To say that straights dominate all aspects of life for most of the year in Swarthmore is tantamount to voluntary blindness,” Udekwu wrote.

Furthermore, some students upset by the chalkings also felt silenced. Westphal said she knows of a couple of students who feel less safe on campus as a result of the chalkings and the subsequent debate, having expressed fear that they would be labeled “homophobic” if they stated their concerns. “I feel like it got more emotional than intellectual. But there were very intellectual elements of it too,” Westphal said.

Related Links from Swarthmore’s paper:

12 thoughts on “Students Against Chalking at Swarthmore

  1. annalisa

    you’d think that, being a student at wesleyan, you would see the irony inherent in your post, “anonymous” #1.

  2. annalisa

    you’d think that, being a student at wesleyan, you would see the irony inherent in your post, “anonymous” #1.

  3. Anonymous

    believe it or not, there ARE students at Wes who think chalking is completely ridiculous and/or should be banned…something about speaking without accountability rubs me the wrong waythanks for assuming everyone has the same perspective here

  4. Anonymous

    believe it or not, there ARE students at Wes who think chalking is completely ridiculous and/or should be banned…something about speaking without accountability rubs me the wrong way

    thanks for assuming everyone has the same perspective here

Comments are closed.