Students at another university are furious about a spate of chalk scribblings that appeared on campus this week. "Trump 2016," "Build the Wall," and "Stop Islam" were among the messages that made some members of University of Michigan community feel unsafe enough to actually call the police.
UM is a public university, unlike Emory University and Scripps College, and its students enjoy broader free speech protections under the First Amendment. The chalkings, which appeared on the Diag—a public square frequently inhabited by activists of various causes—seem even less out of place here than at Emory. As a graduate of UM, I can testify to the fact that the campus is highly politically active and frequently inhabited by demonstrators, littered with flyers, and yes, even covered in chalk.
And yet you would think—based on this story in The Michigan Daily—that UM students are so sheltered they have never encountered an opinion that offends them. How else can anyone explain why a group of student-activists were so spooked by obvious political speech that they overcame their natural aversion to the police and actually called for help?
"I've been getting bounced around from one person to another, and I understand it's after hours, but there should be some kind of emergency number besides the police because a lot of students of color don't feel comfortable calling the police," one irate student, Banen Al-Sheemary, told The Daily. "They're our only resource and that I think is ridiculous."
What's ridiculous is that the students wasted the authorities' time at all. The chalkings weren't an emergency: they were protected expression, and neither the police nor the university is under any obligation to remove them.
Chalk messages are easily erased, of course, and the students were able to cleans the Diag easily enough with a few buckets of water. Al-Sheemary described this as "a really difficult process" and lamented that the administration's inaction "perpetuates these really racist and hateful stereotypes that turn into violence and turn into students of color feeling unsafe on campus."
UM did release a statement. "Attacks directed toward any member or group within the University of Michigan community, based on a belief or characteristic, are inconsistent with our values of respect, civility and equality," said UM spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald, referencing the "Stop Islam" message.
I understand the sentiment being expressed here, but is it really the case that "attacks"—if that is indeed what these messages are—directed toward adherents of certain religions are off limits? Islam is an ideology, not a race. It seems like a university is fine place to speak out against systems of belief that one thinks are harmful, including various religions.
Imagine if right-leaning students had taken offense at a message that read "Stop Conservatives" or "Stop Republicans." Should the cops do something about pro-Bernie Sanders students if they chalk "Stop Hillary"?
Criticism is not an act of violence, no matter how fervently the campus left insists that it is.