Students at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn. were left feeling betrayed after the university’s president placed a ban on a popular outlet for art and advertising: chalking.

President Douglas J. Bennet has declared that the sidewalk scribbles were not meeting “the civility test” and ordered students to surrender their chalk. Nevertheless, students on the active campus are angrily protesting this infringement upon free speech rights – and rightly so.

Recently, chalk has been kicked to the curb on many campuses around the nation, including the University of Kentucky, where students are now required to get permits before they are allowed to chalk. The University of Nebraska has followed a similar course by organizing special chalking zones. While more and more campuses are drawing the line against chalking, the University should stand vehemently against such policies.

Chalk-outlawing universities are merely fearful of students’ right of freedom of expression, and all too often this fear leads to limitations placed on important rights. Officials worry that chalking will be used to increase hate messages and dread that streets will offend pedestrians. They also fear the lack of accountability, for rarely do students sign the sidewalks they chalk.

Limiting basic rights, however, is not the answer. While today there may only be an abolition of chalking, tomorrow could very well bring something different. Each limitation on free speech opens doorways for further limitation. Will Wesleyan officials ban flyers and posters next? These communication mediums have the same ability to offend and the same lack of accountability.

Furthermore, the alternatives to chalking are less environment-friendly. Chalk does not end up in the trash, nor does it litter the campus. If students currently think the towering stacks of paper around the University used by organizations for advertising are wasteful, they should take a moment to imagine campus without chalking.

Chalking is vital to University campus life. A multitude of organizations turn to chalk as an easy, inexpensive way to promote themselves. Already at a loss for funding, to remove chalk would only increase the debt of most clubs because they would have to turn to more expensive means of advertising, like Xeroxing.

Universities need to learn to trust students to use chalk as an outlet for expression, regardless of a few rough sketches. Instead, President Bennet has also tried to form a compromise with students by pushing for censorship of obscene chalking. He wants to have the ability to erase any names of people who might be offended by seeing their names etched in sidewalk; however, censoring communal language still invades the realm of free speech. In addition, over time, it is likely that officials would become increasingly stringent in their evaluations of what is offensive and needs to be erased.

While many university officials across the country have gone too far in their restrictions of chalking, students must be cognizant of the effects that their words can have. In turn, it would behoove administrators to understand the importance of healthy campus debate.

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