As you may know if you read the Argus or are just generally more well-informed than the slackers over at The Wesleyinger, the WSA recently passed a resolution advocating for an end to the chalking ban that’s been in place since 2003. Read the article itself for a quick-and-dirty history of the events that inspired the 25-2 vote a couple weeks ago. You can see the resolution itself here, courtesy of sponsor and WSA member Scott Elias ’14, until the WSA uploads it to their website, but be warned – there’s a prominent date error at the top of the document that may or may not irk you. For those of you who haven’t had a chance to see the typical format for WSA resolutions, by the way, you may find the writing here amusing, infuriating, or both. Oh well!
WSA resolutions, if you’re wondering, have no binding “legal” force on the University, but as presented to administrators often are used to further discussions or enact real policy changes in accordance with the resolution (yes, real changes do actually happen because of resolutions). So, y’know, optimism and all that. Check out some words from Elias (you may recognize the style) on why this matters to some people (continuing under the cut):
I think most students when they hear that there is a chalking ban think its insane. So our purpose was to create a consistent communications policy that won’t preemptively restrict student speech, that will be more consistent with our institutional priority of advancing social justice, and that will put an end to the exorbitant cost of enforcing a broad ban– an easy and logical way to curb costs in an era of austerity in which we terminated need-blind admissions.
It is incumbent upon the Wesleyan Student Assembly to reflect the fervent desire of many for a more inclusive campus culture and improving areas in which we, as a community, have fallen short. And our policy on chalking is one example of an area in which we can improve. So it will be interesting to see what kind of leverage this resolution will have with the administration. I’ve met with various administrators and they definitely understand where we are coming from, but they fear that past concerns will manifest again, which, as I understand it, is their main reservation. But let’s not kid ourselves. The chalking ban isn’t the last bastion of social justice the university wants us to think it is. It brushes oppressions and micro-aggressions that occur at Wesleyan under the rug and is thus inconsistent and antithetical to our university’s institutional goal of advancing social justice.
Almost eleven years ago, President Bennet banned the process on Wesleyan’s campus known as “chalking.” Almost immediately, students tried to pressure the administration into lifting the ban to no avail, mostly by recommending that people just chalk anyway (and maybe also by bringing a flood of chalking violations to the SJB) and arguing that the chalking ban was morally and practically unadvisable.
Chalking has seen a resurgence starting last spring, around the ten-year anniversary of the ban, followed by a forum on chalking later that month. Last fall, the need-blind movement used chalking, which swiftly became a goal of its own, including two “legal chalk-ins,” one controversially blocked by President Roth.
Eric Stephen ’13, in a substantial Argus article published today, analyzes the chalking ban from a new perspective: that the chalking ban actually violates free speech rights protected by Connecticut state law, and should thus be reversed on legal grounds. A condensed version of Eric’s argument is posted below:
In today’s issue, The Argus will be publishing an article that critically examines the legality of the chalking moratorium imposed by President Douglas Bennet in 2002 and maintained by Michael Roth after he took over as the University’s President in 2007. The article argues that Wesleyan’s chalking ban is unenforceable because it violates free speech rights that are legally protected by Connecticut state law. However, the Argus article is designed to provide legal detail for a series of arguments supporting and opposing the chalking ban; for students who are not interested in the minutia of law, Wesleying has offered me the opportunity to give a brief review of the article for their site.
“The ultimate goal wasn’t to be able to chalk. It was to exhibit control over their environment.”
Ten years ago this autumn, President Doug Bennet ’59 sent out an all-campus email and banned chalking at Wesleyan for good. When I set out to mark the tenth anniversary of that Moratorium, I only meant to reflect on a heated and surreal episode in Wesleyan’s activist history and share the story behind a once-treasured campus medium that stills pops up every now and then.
Then this happened. And this. And this. And this Homecoming banner drop (which bears stark similarity to events described in the following interview). All of a sudden, chalking was in the news again.
History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme. What follows is an unexpectedly timely conversation with our first interview subject, Matthew M. ’05, who not only passionately fought the chalking moratorium, but went so far as to hack into President Bennet’s email and inform the Wesleyan community that the Moratorium was over. (Spoiler: It wasn’t.) According to Matthew, the chalking controversy wasn’t just about chalk. It was about widespread discontent over “fewer and fewer outlets for organized student autonomy”—a sentiment that brewed well past the fall of ’02 and culminated with over 250 students trapping President Bennet in his office in December, 2004. (No, really. Ask your older sister about it!)
The full interview is past the jump (it’s a long one), and the introductory post is here. Since he openly admits to perpetrating email fraud, Matthew asked me to withhold his last name. Our chalking Westrospective will continue later this week with another interview reflection.