Recent chalkings seen on Iowa State sidewalks led to a student protest surrounding racism on campus. Following the protest, a new chalking policy was implemented to limit who can chalk and what they can put in their chalkings.

Chalking messages on sidewalks can have value. Anti-racist messages, for example, can prompt people to explore the harms of racism and maybe take action. That’s why activists use chalking. Racist messages, however, never have value. They harm people. And they should stop.

Given this, you might think the university should permit anti-racist chalking but prohibit racist chalking. More generally, you might think the university should prohibit chalking that does more harm than good, and permit anything else.

But it shouldn’t.

Imagine some possible cases.

-Someone chalks TORTURERS on the ROTC building after hearing about Abu Ghraib.

-Someone chalks KILLERS on the ISU police station after hearing about Cleveland police shooting Tamir Rice.

-Someone chalks MEAT IS MURDER in front of Curtiss after seeing a movie about factory farms.

-Someone chalks DEATH TO WHITE SUPREMACY all over campus to counter racist chalking.

Some veterans, police officers, animal husbandry students and Trump supporters might feel attacked in one case or another. Yet, some of these messages could have value, spreading important information, inspiring needed action and so on.

Would the harm exceed the good in any of these cases? I don’t trust university administrators to decide. I don’t want them to have that power. Nor do I want you to have that power.

Invoking a different principle won’t help. You might only want to ban chalking that attacks people’s identity. But I don’t trust administrators to decide which of soldier, police officer, animal farmer, black or Jewish is part of someone’s identity and which isn’t.

The problem is the same no matter the principle: we shouldn’t give administrators the power to decide what can be seen and what can’t.

The First Amendment prevents the university from treating racist and anti-racist chalking differently. We should be glad it does.

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(2) comments

Steve Gregg

Well said. College bureaucrats should not determine acceptable and unacceptable speech. For one reason, such bureaucrats are hyper-liberals, the kind which are driving America into the ditch with their radical nonsense. The best reason is that a university should let ideas fight it out in the open. Let bad speech be met with good speech and the winner take all in the free market of ideas.

The reason that liberals love censorship is that their ideas suck and suck big. They know that they cannot stand the fire of honest debate. You should never trust anyone who wants to shut people up.

Lochland monahan

I can appreciate that position Gregg, but I find problematic to presume the administration is all "hyper-liberal", because political affiliation should not determine anyone's opinion on the 1st amendment. The cost of our University (A public institution required to protect free speech) determining what the acceptable forms of expression are is that ALL STUDENTS HAVE LOST THEIR PERSONAL RIGHT TO USE CHALK ON A SIDEWALK. THIS IS NOT A VICTORY, THIS IS NOT POLITICAL, THIS MATTER IS CONSTITUTIONAL. THIS CHALK BAN IS A BLATANT INFRINGEMENT UPON THE ENTIRE STUDENT BODY's 1ST AMENDMENT RIGHT OF FREE SPEECH.

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