Chalk away: It's not banned

Fear not, Geneseo: chalking is still OK.

After college employees removed chalked messages from campus sidewalks last week, concerned students began rallying against what they perceived to be an attack against students' right to free speech.

On March 24, InfoSHARE, an unrecognized campus organization, chalked advertisements for a candlelight vigil to be held the following day to mark the fifth anniversary of the Iraq war. To their surprise, the messages were removed. InfoSHARE was then approached by University Police and told that campus policy had changed.

In response to these actions, juniors Robert Rasmussen and Dan Caves and sophomore J.T. Andrews created a Facebook group entitled "Coalition for Protection of First Amendment Rights of SUNY Geneseo Students." The group soon grew to over 200 members. The three students also met with President Christopher Dahl to speak with him about the issue.

"Fortunately," the students said, the incident was a "plain and simple mistake."

Assistant Vice President of Facilities Services George Stooks, who has been at Geneseo for barely over a month, explained that he had reviewed the college's policy for sign and poster regulation and upon hearing that there was chalking outside of Erwin Hall, gave permission for the chalk to be removed.

Stooks emphasized that the grounds maintenance crew that removed the chalk "were operating under what they believed to be college policy," and that when the incident was brought up to him, he "didn't know the content [of the chalked messages] at all."

Dahl also clarified that "there is no general ban on chalking, nor as a general policy does the college remove chalking from sidewalks."

The official policy only states that "chalking of paved campus pathways is permitted in the Sturges Quad and college residential villages except on walkways directly in front of building entrances." Stooks said that the ambiguity of the written policy versus the accepted verbal policy on chalking was the reason for the miscommunication. He also said that he would be reviewing the policy with Dahl later this year.

Students who had been infuriated by the threat of the ban were satisfied by the good news.

"We're now rather relieved," said Andrews. "We were worried the college had actually banned this."

Senior International Relations major Michael Case, member of the Facebook group, wrote, "If nothing else, it's nice to see how quickly students can rally around an important cause."

Rasmussen said that before the issue was resolved, the Model United Nations and International Relations Club, "voted unanimously to support freedom of expression through chalking [with abstentions]." He also said that the Facebook group had gained unofficial support from about 20 other campus groups.

Caves added that he looked forward to seeing more chalk. "[Chalking] is indicative of a vibrant, diverse campus."

The group also revealed their plans for a Chalk-a-Thon, which they advertised on Facebook as a "celebration of First Amendment Rights...especially Freedom of Expression." The event will take place at 7 p.m. on April 7.