So there’s like a shit ton of wespeaks in the Argus this week about chalking and activism and identity and revolution and disney lyrics. Great, I say. Who the fuck doesn’t love the Argus full of Wespeaks?
And while if you asked me personally my opinion on the whole matter of chalking (hell, if you asked me my opinion on fucking toast), I’d talk your ear off, the one thing I’m homing in on in particular tonight is I guess the whole why we bother.
Mike Pernick ’10 writes in his column this week:
Going out and spray painting in the tunnels is a great way to show that you care about your what’s happening in your life. The campaign to bring back chalking is a wonderful expression of free speech within the Wesleyan community. Every day there are countless examples of people who are concerned about their environment. Yet few here at Wesleyan seem to truly care about the fate of our nation. Sure, many individuals spend time talking about how much they hate Bush and they despise Republican policies, yet what have they done about it? Ask yourself the key question, “What have I done to fight against dangerous conservative policies in America?”
And I think this is on the minds of many at Wesleyan who don’t really understand where the chalking and the butt tunnels are fitting into this grand activist vision we all have for Wesleyan.
And to be fair, at first glance, it doesn’t seem to fit. They seem like highly insular forms of resistance that have no bearing on the outside world whatsoever. And granted, a lot of the shit we do at Wesleyan is pretty much just angry masturbation because, well, Wesleyan is one of the toughest colleges in the country and god forbid we let off some steam now and then.
Regardless, the theme I’m hitting on is that a lot of chalkers here do not chalk just for the sake of chalking. They do not chalk simply for the experience of expressing themselves. Yes, as Bennet has said over and over again, we have tons of venues for expressing ourselves. But as I argued before, chalking is about building a community. It’s about constructing a home for ourselves and a claiming some sense of communal identity.
Wesleyan as an institution does not really build social cohesion. We as a school do not have an institutional memory that binds us all together as Wesleyan students. We cannot all appropriate traditions and ideas from the school’s past and really rally around them. And so when Wesleyan tries to take away some of the very few traditions that remain–say chalking or tunnel graffiti–it serves to again, alienate us and separate us into individualized factions that cannot build a socially cohesive campus.
And there are a ton of other factors that play into this (like GRS, the disperse locations of student housing, the lack of campus-wide events, fucking Facebook, iPods, cellphones etc, etc), so I’m not just saying that chalking is the only thing to get pissed off about here.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that Wesleyan used to be known as an activist campus. It really doesn’t carry that reputation anymore and I don’t think it’s because Wesleyan students are lazy. I don’t think it’s because they don’t care. But I do think that it’s because in order to build campus-wide support for any issue, you must first overcome the utterly insane degree of alienation that we experience every day as students.
I’ve heard this alienation described mostly as awkwardness (as if awkwardness is somehow a more palatable word for it). With few notable exceptions, I think students at Wesleyan feel extremely awkward breaking ranks with their comfort circle and engaging anyone for any reason–from hooking up, to dating, to friend-making, to petition writing, to eating dinner with strangers…whatever. I think you get my drift.
So in sum, I think by protecting chalking, we are taking a step in the right direction. We are creating a community and we are saying fuck the awkwardness. Who the hell needs it?
And you can do this without chalking. Make a new friend tomorrow. Talk to someone completely different. Stop pulling out your cellphone every fucking five minutes and finally look your classmates in the eye and smile when you pass them by.
But for Pete’s sake, get out there and engage with the rest of this school.
Engagement is a form of activism, perhaps even the strongest. Perhaps it’s not protesting against a war and it certainly won’t end up in any newspaper, but I think part of what made Wesleyan so weird in the first place was a solid refusal on the part of the student body to accept alienation, to accept the awkwardness.
By allowing the administration to take shots at whatever institutions we have left to build this community, we are making it easier for them to push over the next generation of Wesleyan students. The more alienated we become, the harder it is to fight for old Wesleyan. We are being weakened and by perpetuating this sense of awkwardness we are complicit in the whole process.
Chalking won’t fix the problem but I’m sure it’ll help.
(I’d like to direct you all at this time to Zach Strassburger ’06‘s awesome wespeak today about chalking and its effects on community.)