OPINION: Defacing chalk messages prevents dialogue

Chalk messages scrawled on campus sidewalks promoting an Oct. 7 event with U.S. Senate candidate Kris Kobach were smudged and erased. (Olivia Rogers | Collegian Media Group)

It was a normal Tuesday night. I was working on homework, when I got a message: “There are people washing away some chalking on campus.”

“Which chalking?”

It was the anti-abortion messages that Cats for Life just finished. A few people (presumably students) washed them away, scrubbing them out or scribbling over the message to change the meaning. I wasn’t sure why they did that, but I assumed it was because they did not agree with the messages and felt the need to express their distaste.

This happened almost a year ago, and isn’t out of the ordinary. Last week, College Republicans chalked for an event with Kris Kobach, former Kansas secretary of state and current U.S. Senate candidate. By the next morning, nearly all of the messages had been scrubbed over so no one could see the announcement.

It seems that every year, something of this nature happens. A group writes a message or announces an event on the sidewalk, someone disagrees with them and the messages get tampered with or erased.

Why? Kansas State claims to uphold freedom of speech. We have a thriving, student-run school newspaper. We uphold free speech, allowing all areas of campus to be open for dialogue. We hold dialogues for diverse voices. We speak up when we see issues in our community and on campus.

So why are there still people who believe the best way to deal with a message they disagree with is to remove it?

It’s not that this method isn’t effective. It’s been employed by some of history’s most notorious offenders to control a nation and mitigate challenges to tyrannical governments. America was supposed to be different — by protecting the opinions we disagree with, we allow everyone to exercise one of their most basic rights: to speak, think and act freely in accordance with their belief system.

To those who feel the need to scribble out chalk messages, here’s some advice: the best way to combat a position you disagree with is not to silence that position.

It’s to speak up for what you believe with eloquence and confidence.

Allowing a diverse set of ideas come to light allows us to sift through ideals, hash them out and let the best ideas win.

Scribbling out chalk messages instead of starting a dialogue misses a key component of good argumentation: recognizing the people who oppose us. Arguing for what we believe requires us to acknowledge the “other” person, to pause for a moment, peel back the barrier of opposing ideas and look into the eyes of a person who, for the most part, is just like us. They deal with the same day-to-day worries, problems and stresses.

The university should be the highest exemplar of free speech and contest of ideas. We can all have a hand in this by living out that respect on a daily basis by not scribbling out someone else’s message, but sitting down with them and talking. You may not walk away changing anyone’s mind, but the act of holding a conversation recognizes the dignity of the other person — even if you disagree.

Ultimately, a free and equal society is about recognizing the dignity of each person, regardless of their ideas, socioeconomic status, gender or race. Let the conversations we have start with dignity, not defacing: listening instead of shouting.

So, to the people who scribbled on other group’s chalk: I challenge you to share your opinions in a constructive manner. Send one in. Let’s have the courage to have a conversation.

Olivia Rogers is a community editor for the Collegian, the vice president of the University Honors Program, a senior in political science and the treasurer of College Republicans. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and the persons interviewed and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.

I’m Olivia Rogers. I graduated with dual degrees in philosophy and political science in May 2020. After I graduated, I went on to attend law school at Notre Dame. While at the Collegian, I served as the community editor for several semesters, working to share the opinions of the K-State student body. I write because: “Stories make us more alive, more human, more courageous, more loving.”― Madeleine L'Engle