Michael Roth Calls it Graffiti; Others Weigh in on Chalking

A couple of days ago, we posted that Michael Roth wrote this on his blog:

Michael Roth, What are you doing about global warming? These were the words I saw graffitied on the sidewalk near my office this week. There were a few more global warming tags at the Usdan Center and walkways. What an important subject, but what a dumb way to articulate it! We asked physical plant workers to clear the surfaces, using even more energy resources than we already were doing. And how was I supposed to respond – with graffiti? I don’t think that would be very effective.

And an alum writes in the comments:

  • Second, I want to say that although it may seem petty for students to chalk what they feel may be important questions, I believe it is a wonderful form of expression that was halted a few years ago, a subject for another email. BUT, most importantly, this student’s chalking led our new President to think for several hours about just how our University IS thinking about the University’s environmental impact. I appreciate both the chalking and your response. (#)

And two seniors:

It seems important, if a bit obvious, to point out that chalking does not waste energy resources, maintaining President Bennet’s policy of erasing any and all chalking does. I’m sure you’re familiar with the history of chalking at Wesleyan (if not, http://www.wesleyan.edu/hermes/chalking/ offers a great overview of chalking and why it was/is considered important to the activist community here), and simply brushing aside this mode of communication as “graffiti” and denigrating its practitioners is an insult both to the Wesleyan activist community and to the global tradition of civil disobedience and nonviolent direct action.

(By the way, it’s worth noting that the definition of “graffiti” requires that it involve “damage or destruction to property” — and also that it be painted.)

Lilly Dagdigian ‘08
Per Stinchcombe ‘08

Ummm…seriously. I don’t want to point out the obvious (as many already have) but chalk does…you know, wash off. It wouldn’t take those resources to clean that horribly offensive “Michael Roth, What are you doing about global warming?” off the sidewalk if it wasn’t forbidden in the first place. Because if I’m reading it right, the President points out that our anti-chalking policy is bad for the environment but we’re going to continue to enforce it anyway. I mean he’s kinda saying the disease seems less severe than the cure, here.

Also, calling it graffiti is sorta like when former Education Secretary Rod Paige called the National Education Association a terrorist organization…it’s sorta…erg…what’s the word I’m looking for? Sketchy?

(Sorry for the repost of Xue’s previous post, but the comments are still coming in on his post and I think they’re worth reading…because someone has to screen all his comments, they take a few days to show up.)

  • Anonymous

    Keep it up, Holly and Xue. I think I might even still have boxes of chalked stashed on campus…-esb

  • Anonymous

    Keep it up, Holly and Xue. I think I might even still have boxes of chalked stashed on campus…

    -esb

  • johnwesley

    First of all, isn’t the whole idea behind “the global tradition of civil disobedience” that the thing, the act is, you know — illegal? And, while I do find the wasted energy argument clever to a degree, you do realize there’s almost nothing environmentally correct about two hundred acres of sod that have to be watered and mowed constantly? The classic New England college campus is a sea of wasted energy. Why pick on clean sidewalks?

  • johnwesley

    First of all, isn’t the whole idea behind “the global tradition of civil disobedience” that the thing, the act is, you know — illegal? And, while I do find the wasted energy argument clever to a degree, you do realize there’s almost nothing environmentally correct about two hundred acres of sod that have to be watered and mowed constantly? The classic New England college campus is a sea of wasted energy. Why pick on clean sidewalks?

  • Anonymous

    and how exactly are chalking and spray paint dependent on each other…?

  • Anonymous

    and how exactly are chalking and spray paint dependent on each other…?

  • Anonymous

    Maybe rampant chalking can lead to things like, hmmm, I don’t know, real graffiti, with real paint, on real walls, of the real library, making physical plant guys clean it up.

  • Anonymous

    Maybe rampant chalking can lead to things like, hmmm, I don’t know, real graffiti, with real paint, on real walls, of the real library, making physical plant guys clean it up.

  • Braille
  • Braille
  • Anonymous

    Only Wesleyan could read Roth’s blog post about global warming/climate change and respond by accusing him of racism.I don’t think that comment has any ground to stand on.

  • Anonymous

    Only Wesleyan could read Roth’s blog post about global warming/climate change and respond by accusing him of racism.

    I don’t think that comment has any ground to stand on.

  • Mad Joy

    The most insightful (though provocative) comment about chalking was, in my opinion, Stacie’s – while I don’t think Michael Roth would have intended anything so hateful, and in fact I think he is fairly conscious of his privilege in general, she makes a fair point:Hello President Roth,It’s interesting to me that you invoked the image of graffiti to discredit a student who chose to challenge and question the way that you use your power. What’s at stake when a white middle class man in a position of real and public authority calls graffiti, an urban art widely associated with hip-hop culture and thus with blackness, a “dumb” way to express something? Moreover, why invoke graffiti in the first place? Chalking, if only for its transient nature, is clearly NOT graffiti. Could it be that you intended to provoke white fears about graffiti–that graffiti is a sign of social disorder and chaos, of lawlessness and decay? Perhaps, perhaps not. But you did seem a very small step away from asking that students only participate in “civilized” forms of discourse.Comment by Stacie Szmonko ’07

  • Mad Joy

    The most insightful (though provocative) comment about chalking was, in my opinion, Stacie’s – while I don’t think Michael Roth would have intended anything so hateful, and in fact I think he is fairly conscious of his privilege in general, she makes a fair point:

    Hello President Roth,

    It’s interesting to me that you invoked the image of graffiti to discredit a student who chose to challenge and question the way that you use your power. What’s at stake when a white middle class man in a position of real and public authority calls graffiti, an urban art widely associated with hip-hop culture and thus with blackness, a “dumb” way to express something? Moreover, why invoke graffiti in the first place? Chalking, if only for its transient nature, is clearly NOT graffiti. Could it be that you intended to provoke white fears about graffiti–that graffiti is a sign of social disorder and chaos, of lawlessness and decay? Perhaps, perhaps not. But you did seem a very small step away from asking that students only participate in “civilized” forms of discourse.

    Comment by Stacie Szmonko ’07