Earlier this year, there were a raft of incidents at colleges involving students scrawling pro-Trump messages in chalk on public sidewalks and stairways. Some administrators were quick to crack down on these “microaggressions.”
But after there were complaints about pro-Trump chalkings at the University of North Carolina Wilmington recently, the school’s chancellor sent a campus-wide email reminding students that free speech is protected.
“We are an institution of learning and a marketplace of ideas, and a campus that doesn’t just permit but actively encourages our population to engage in dialogue about sensitive topics,” wrote Jose V. Sartarelli. “The safety of those who wish to express their viewpoints is of the utmost importance. In turn, the safety of those exposed to those expressions is also critical. I do believe it is important to note that not agreeing with an opinion shouldn’t be equated with feeling threatened by it.”
Sartarelli added that there’s likely to be more political chalkings on campus as the election nears. The university permits chalk on its campus, and it does not restrict content unless it is obscene, vulgar or libelous, according to the Code of Student Life.
The chancellor’s announcement comes a week after conservative students complained that an English professor, Hannah Dela Cruz Abrams, had erased some political chalkings on campus.
“To be a professor and to silence a student or student group, whoever put out the chalk, that’s not right,” says Jessica Ortiz, vice president of UNC-Wilmington Republicans.
But Abrams tells Heat Street she only removed a chalking with an overtly racist message: “Make America White Again.”
“I absolutely support free speech,” she says. “I just, at the time, thought that the overtly racist content was in violation of the Seahawks Respect Compact. I would never erase anything that’s purely political.”
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.