The confusion about IC’s no-chalking policy
By Anne Gould Northgraves
Chalk is an incredibly simple item. It is a basic writing tool composed primarily of calcium carbonate. But most of us know it as an instrument for bringing childhood imagination to life on the blank canvas that was the playground tarmac or home driveways. You could draw the gigantic five-bedroom mansion of your dreams, in 2D form of course, create polka-dotted whipped-cream breathing dragons, practice what your signature would look like if you were a giant or, at the very least, form a game of hop-scotch.
Yet on the Ithaca College campus, such dreams are not allowed—or at least not as readily realized. While the college’s official Policy Manual does definitively state that chalking is not permitted, further rules governing free speech and administrative interpretation of the policy complicate the issue, calling into question the very existence of the policy.
According to volume II, section 2.12.3 of the College’s Policy Manual, “Chalking is strictly prohibited,” and in volume VII, section 22.214.171.124.8 states, “Defacing, damaging or destroying property belonging to the College…is prohibited and is cause for disciplinary action.” However, the former statement is listed under the solicitation and advertising guidelines and does not specify whether it also pertains to artwork. Volume VII also states in section 126.96.36.199.3 that “Students and student organizations are free, publicly and privately, to hold discussions, pass resolutions, distribute leaflets, circulate petitions, and take other orderly action that does not disrupt the essential operation of the institution.”
Given the mixed messages and the fact that the writing tool in question is rather transient, the administration of the college does not pursue chalkers as cold-hearted criminals. Mike Leary, assistant director of judicial affairs, said that students are not caught mid-chalk regularly and that the offense is a comparatively minor one.
“If someone were caught, we would have to look at the circumstances of what they were doing, where it was happening,” Leary said. “They’re not caught very often. I would consider it a very minor violation. I won’t consider it vandalism.”
Sybil Conrad, assistant director of campus center and events services, explains the logic behind the policy, pointing out how difficult it is to regulate content, location and who can chalk.
“Once you get into the logistics of trying to regulate such a thing as chalking, it’s very, very difficult,” Conrad said. “It’s also hard to have repercussions for something written that shouldn’t be there because it’s just one chalk message.”
Conrad’s comments are curious given the policy at Cornell University. There, chalking is not only allowed, but also encouraged. Catherine Holmes, associate dean of students for the student activities office at Cornell, said their policy allows chalking that will wear away in one week or after two rainstorms on any horizontal hardtop surface except around Day Hall.
Holmes added that the few problems they run into on their campus involve using materials that are resilient or protective sprays.
“Where student groups on our campus get into trouble is when they use something that doesn’t wear away quickly,” she said. “They can be charged for the cost of removal.”
In fact, this signage for student groups provides many positive aspects, not only for those organizations but also for the campus.
“[They are displayed] particularly that first week of classes and when the new students arrive,” Holmes said. “The Big Red Marching Band chalks extensively around campus. They’re pretty creative. They’re funny messages. Sometimes there’s some really incredible works of art.”
This is something that Carla Stetson, Ithaca College assistant professor of art, sees as an advantage to outdoor artwork and a reason to consider changing the policy.
“I think that it could be somebody’s art form,” she said. “It shocks us into seeing our environment again. It could be very beautiful. It could be art.”
Even Conrad admits that the chalkers she has encountered have been harmless.
“People are usually pretty nice about it a lot of times because people are not aware of the policy or they didn’t realize that this was something they weren’t supposed to do,” she said. “In the eight years I’ve been here, I have not judicially referred someone for chalking.”
When any type of public free speech is allowed, there is the potential for derogatory or offensive material. But the possibility of such unfortunate instances should not stand in the way of allowing free expression—particularly expressions that could not only help student groups more successfully advertise their programs but could help encourage student creativity and a more colorful campus. Even though we are much older than our preschool selves, it does not mean we have to live in a world devoid of pastel-colored mansions or rainbow-maned unicorns.
Anne Gould Northgraves is a senior cinema and photography major who likes to chalk it out. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.