Campus chalkings blur the line of free speech and hate speech


Ryan Fischer

Students use areas on campus to express their freedom of speech.

What began as a nationwide trend of labeling Trump-supporting messages in chalk throughout college grounds has spiraled into a debate over free or hate speech on Marshall University’s campus.

Dan Scavino, social media director of the Trump campaign, posted a photo of a pro-Trump hashtag on the side of a Huntington student rental house—complete with a Marshall flag—and a brief praise for the students’ support. In chalk, the message read, “Trump 2016 #BuildTheWall,” in reference to Donald Trump’s desire to construct a physical barrier between the United States and Mexico to prevent illegal immigration.

Marshall president Jerry Gilbert responded to the situation immediately and Physical Plant employees were tasked with scrubbing writings from the walls and pouring water on the walkways to remove the chalk.

The workers, however, could not wash away the aftertaste left behind by the situation.

By Monday, Gilbert issued a statement acknowledging the political messages and each student’s free speech protections under the First Amendment, but warned that any discriminatory behavior would not be tolerated.

“At Marshall, we welcome and embrace all members of our university and local community, regardless of their national origin, race, color, sex, sexual orientation, religion, veteran status or disabilities,” Gilbert said. “We have no walls around our university and it is an open access campus.”

On Tuesday morning, the words, “Am I in your safe space?” were written along the exterior of Jenkins Hall; placed conveniently near the sidewalks lined with red flags placed to raise awareness for campus sexual assault.

Although no known connections can be made between the Trump chalk and “safe space” chalk, students quickly took to social media to express their discomfort.

This is near the red flags set out for sexual assault awareness month, symbols for people who need safe spaces, especially on college campuses,” said senior Nathan Full. “For the record: Yes, you are in my safe space, jackasses.”

“In a school with a thriving study abroad program and with so many international students, that’s so distasteful,” junior, Alex Runyon posted. “Advocate for your candidate, but don’t make people feel like they’re not wanted here.”

Marshall University may be home to a small herd of anonymous Trump-backing chalk-artists, but it is also home to a large community of international students, specifically groups of students of various religions and ethnicities Trump has threatened to deport, monitor or remove if he’s elected into the Oval Office.

A fine line exists between free speech and hate speech, which is characterized by the American Bar Association as speech that “offends, threatens or insults groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, disability or other traits.”

The difference? Human decency.