jameth (jameth) wrote in uw,

Colleges draw line on sidewalk chalk

(AP) -- Stroll through any university today and you'll likely tread on an invitation to a fraternity party or campus-wide event scrawled in multicolored chalk across a sidewalk.

But some colleges are taking steps to limit what's known as chalking, concerned that their walkways will become low-tech chat rooms or, worse, billboards for ethnic hatred.

Minnesota State University Moorhead this semester adopted a policy requiring student organizations to get a permit before leaving messages in specific sections of campus where chalking is allowed.

Approval of content is not required for a permit, although the policy does prohibit "counter-chalking" -- advocating an opposing point of view anywhere near the original message.

"It's a way for the people who do the chalking to make themselves known so we don't have anonymous hate speech," said university spokesman Doug Hamilton.

Dignified campuses
During Holocaust Awareness Week last spring, anti-Semitic messages appeared in chalk on the University of Colorado campus in Boulder. University spokeswoman Pauline Hale said administrators there are now mulling a chalking policy, though she says their concerns were not prompted by last spring's incident.

At Minnesota State, the president of the student senate, Peter Hartje, said he and his schoolmates view the restrictions as the "university coming up with a standard to ensure dignity and to guarantee that our campus didn't turn into a giant hopscotch box."

A get-out-the-vote message chalked prior to the 2000 presidential election landed David Hutchinson before the dean of students at the University of Kentucky.

Accused of defacing public property, Hutchinson learned his school lacked specific chalking regulations.

Hutchinson, now a senior, initially enlisted the American Civil Liberties Union to determine if the university violated his free speech rights, but then began to work with Kentucky officials to develop an official policy on chalking.

"I understand that they're trying to attract students or whatever, but this actually shows that there is student involvement on campus," said Hutchinson, who faced the threat of suspension if he was nabbed putting chalk to sidewalk a second time.

Two years later, Kentucky is about to join other schools limiting chalking to designated areas.

University of Nebraska junior Chris Norton said student activism at his school is hindered by a rule that confines chalking to what he called two obscure locations on the Lincoln campus.

"Not only does it restrict our right to free speech, but it also seems kind of silly," said Norton, president of Nebraska's chapter of the Campus Freethought Alliance. "It's only chalk, after all. It's not going to be there forever."

That thinking played into Ohio Wesleyan College's decision to reject a chalking policy earlier this year. Plus, administrators wanted to send a message that the school trusts its 1,860 students.

"It's a good way for people to get their messages across," said Dean of Students John Delaney. "And all it takes is a good rain and it's gone, so it works out pretty well for everyone."

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