President discusses free speech with students

The university organized a public forum Monday in the Memorial Student Center to discuss the appearance of messages in support for presidential candidate Donald Trump written last week in chalk across campus.

Carla Lapelle, interim dean of student affairs, said students are allowed to write messages on the sidewalk, but the messages last week were not all friendly communications. She said it made the university realize that maybe there was something they could do to either educate students about why they allow messages like that to happen or make students feel more welcome.

Marshall President Jerry Gilbert attended the public forum and said he noticed there were not many chalk messages on the sidewalks Monday morning and said he thinks that the chalk messages were a directed event that occurred.

“And I hope that it doesn’t continue at that same level because it did produce some anxiety among people and I understand that totally,” Gilbert said. “I do think that we have to walk a fine line as universities in terms of protecting free speech.”

Gilbert said Marshall University honors free speech.

“As a matter of fact, I would encourage everyone on any side of an issue, if you feel like someone is saying something on one side, to very civilly challenge people and have debate at the university level about issues,” he said. “Because I think that is the behavior that we would like to model for our society is that we are an educated group of students here and that we can debate issues in a civil manner.”

During the forum, finance major Alexis Tyson said throughout Trump’s campaign there has been an atmosphere of anger and when those messages were brought to campus it represented that somewhere on campus those angry feelings are shared.

Gilbert said the university does not know at this point who wrote the messages on campus or if those people are in connection with the university. But some Marshall students have stepped forward on social media to claim they wrote the messages.

Tyson said the forum helped to make her feel more comfortable in knowing the university did try to do something about the messages by President Gilbert issuing a statement the day they appeared. She said learning the university cannot do certain things legally, because Marshall is a public university, comforted her as well.

“And just the fact that they held this just to let us know that our opinions do matter and that we can do something ourselves, it helped out a lot, as well,” she said.

Hunter Reedy,  Japanese education and international affairs major, said he had a lot of feelings toward the chalk messages and said he thought the forum was a good opportunity for students to come voice their concerns.

“A lot of students vent out their frustrations on social media, and this is a way for us to come out and let the university know ourselves,” he said. “Give a little bit of a personal voice to how we feel about this situation.”

Anthony Bady, a business management and management information systems major, said there were a lot of different people with a lot of different opinions at the forum.

“I just feel like it’s one of those things where faculty is going to do what they can, you know, they actually have their hands tied,” he said. “The more we voice our opinions as young individuals, whether or not we’re Republicans, Democrats, or anything in between, if we voice our opinion and we actually come out in numbers and support the positive things that we feel about, rather than let the people who have the small minority, people who have negative feelings toward any type of minority, it’s better for us in the long haul. It’s one of those things that makes us a better family if we do it that way.”

Gilbert said if the chalk messages on the sidewalks do nothing more than get students to want to debate topics on campus, then he thinks they would have served a great purpose, even though they caused some discomfort and hurt feelings.

Lapelle said she thought the things students had to say at the forum were really remarkable. She said some of the students who went to the forum are now going to try to organize a positive event on campus.

Amanda Gibson can be contacted at [email protected].