A new social media trend hit Northwest April 4. This brought police to investigate a drawing in sidewalk chalk. The trend called “The Chalkening” has come to multiple college campuses throughout the country in the last couple months.
Students anonymously write things such as “Trump 2016” in chalk. Some of the first incidents were reported at Emory University in Atlanta and the University of Michigan. These included more than just the pro-Trump messages, but more offensive messages such as “Build the Wall” and “Stop Islam.”
However, at Northwest, we only saw two different instances of this happening and the chalkings read “Trump 2K16” and “#Trump 2016.” Police were quick to respond to this, sending out a message stating they were investigating the chalkings.
This brings up a couple questions from us. First, why is this being investigated? There was no harm done here and someone voiced his or her opinion, so why do we need to investigate it if it was done in chalk, which washes off, and if it said nothing offensive or obscene?
In the student handbook, there is a 10 step application for sidewalk chalking on campus which lists the rules and requirements. These rules say in order to fill out an application for sidewalk chalking, you must be in an organization registered and recognized by the Student Senate and registered online at Bearcat Link. These organizations must fill out an application to be approved before they can chalk and must be given the chalk by the Office of Student Involvement.
The only thing the handbook says about chalkings that could make it illegal is No. 6 and 7 in the student handbook under the section of “Sidewalk Chalking Application Procedure,” which states, “No content shall be made in chalking that materially and substantially disrupts the functioning of the institution, or is unlawful, or involves speech that rises to the level of illegal harassment as defined by the University’s policies prohibiting discrimination and harassment” and “No libelous or discriminatory references shall be made in the chalking.”
So once again, why is this being investigated? This did not say anything libelous or discriminatory, it was not unlawful, disruptive harassment. So why do we care?
The argument here is that the chalker went around the application and wrote without the consent of the University. However, the University sidewalks are owned by the state, and any citizen can step foot on the sidewalks. So the sidewalks can be written on by anyone because it is public, state property.
Also, the fact that there is an application to fill out before you can write on the sidewalk in chalk is an infraction on our First Amendment rights. We should not be told that we can not write on the sidewalks in washable chalk because we are not part of an organization on campus. Just because we are not promoting the latest SAC or Greek event does not mean we should not be able to express ourselves.
The second question we have here is, what will happen at the end of the investigation? Will we find the suspect and arrest them for having poor taste in politicians? Or will we charge them $10 because according to the application to chalk, if you do not properly clean your chalkings after the end date established you will be fined $10?
While this is being investigated for no sane reason, we see reports of stealing and property damage going unnoticed. We think this is ridiculous. There are much more important things than someone scrawling “Trump 2K16” in chalk. That is expression, that is the same as putting a campaign poster in your yard.
We understand the worry of our students if we saw something like “Stop Islam” in big letters in front of the library. But this was harmless, there was no threat in this simple chalking. This could also just be a bunch of students who saw this was becoming a big thing around college campuses and wanted Northwest to participate. That is no reason to go out and investigate the situation.
This has been a nonsense waste of time and the fact that anyone wanted to investigate this chalking is sad. We as students have more to worry about than “The Chalkening” hitting Northwest, like the fact that there are Trump supporters around us.
The University needs to explain why it believes this was a big deal. We need to know why it believes this warranted an investigation. We need to know what exactly will happen to the chalker, and we need to know why our First Amendment rights are not being protected in the application process to chalk. We want answers and we do not want to be sent on a wild goose chase to receive them.