'Chalk back' messages inflame ongoing campus political debate

As much as promoting diversity and a free flow of ideas are seen as important goals at Geneseo, the negative "chalk backs" to the Geneseo College Republicans' chalking two weeks ago has prompted student discussion.

The initial chalking appeared early last week. GCR President Ryan McKenna, a junior, and fellow junior and Vice President Max Duhé expressed that their "intentions were simple: to advertise our club, to express to the Geneseo community that there are conservatives on campus, and to show that our views are not synonymous with the extremist elements of the Republican Party."

Co-President of the Geneseo College Democrats, sophomore Jen Picalila, said that her organization discussed the original chalking at one of their meetings. "Most members were in agreement that some of the topics chalked by the Republicans were a bit over the top…We thought it was unnecessary for the College Republicans to talk negatively about Democrats when they were trying to promote their club." Picalila further explained that the group was not aware of the response chalking, and she did not know who was responsible for the negative comments. Picalila added that "chalking is a great way to have nearly the entire college community see a message within one day."

Almost immediately after the first messages were noticed, an unknown party "chalked back." The second chalking commented on the statistics and messages of the first, while attacking the Republicans by generalizing that they are "racist."

McKenna and Duhé were shocked by the defacement of their club's messages. "In our recollection, no one has ever 'chalked back' to another club's advertisements."

Dean of Students Lenny Sancilio said that the college does permit students to use chalk to advertise. "For the most part it has been respectful. I am aware of some of the chalkings of the Young Republicans that were changed. It is an interesting issue that is somewhat at the core of free speech."

Freshman Speech Pathology major Alexa Schuessler said, "The second chalking was inappropriate. I don't agree with all Republican ideology, but writing slander is crossing the line, especially when they did nothing to warrant it." Other students agreed that chalk back was bad form, but the general consensus was that all of the messages, including the responses, were intended to get students to think, and they succeeded. Sophomore Math major Katelyn Illingworth said that the chalk backs were "ignorant, but I think it's a good idea [to chalk]. People should be more politically aware."

Picalila emphasized this point in stating "I think everyone has the right to express their views, and though I personally disagree with the content of the secondary chalking incident, I do not condemn those that wrote it. I think this has the potential to open up a discussion on campus regarding the content of the remarks made against the College Republicans…we should not shy away from these negative comments, but use them as a starting point to talk about diversity of racial and political differences."

Vice President for Student and Campus Life Robert Bonfiglio said that "students cannot, in general, be 'punished' for writing hostile things. The key to preventing such writing lies in educating people about the impact of their expressed hostility."

McKenna and Duhé also encouraged the discussion of and education about the situation. "We invite anyone who was responsible for this counter chalking to meet with us. Although we find the messages written in response to our advertisements distasteful and inappropriate, the negative views towards Republicans on campus must be addressed."