Removal of pro-Palestinian chalking violates students’ free speech

Chalking done by SUPER is shown in the Student Experience Center Plaza. The chalking took place Wednesday, April 18.

Delaney Shea, Reporter

University admits mistake, plans to train staff further

For Oregon State University students, the way to have one’s voice float up to hundreds or thousands of students per day is to chalk words and pictures on campus sidewalks. Students have a right to this form of free speech, within a few restrictions.

Jasen Phillips, a fourth-year student studying philosophy and sociology and member of Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights, was present during a violation of this right last Wednesday, April 18. SUPER is a student group raising awareness of Israel’s occupation of Palestine, and spreading Palestinian culture.

“On Wednesday evening, we chalked Pro-Palestinian messages in and around the SEC Plaza as a way to freely express our discontent with the Israeli Block Party,” Phillips said via email. “Shortly after we were done, a worker from the MU Building Services walked by and told us that he may have to remove the chalking, because the space is reserved for an event tomorrow. He went on the phone and came back and told us that his supervisor told him to remove everything. We told him that the chalking outside of the reservable space can’t be removed, as it is a form of protected speech at OSU. He told us that his supervisor told him to remove everything and proceeded to remove all of the chalking, even on the sidewalks and outside of the reservable space.”

According to Phillips, the removal of the chalk was upsetting and unwarranted.

“SUPER sees this as a violation of our constitutional rights and civil liberties. Before the person removed the chalk, we told him that him removing our chalk is not okay, yet he still did it,” Phillips said via email.

Deb Mott, director of operations for the Memorial Union, emphasizes that the MU, as the campus student union, prioritizes inclusivity, student leadership and spaces for meaningful community interactions.

According to Mott, chalk is only removed when there is a large event occurring, which has reserved space and will be using the sidewalks.

“We do not remove chalk in spaces that can be reserved unless the space has a reservation and the customer/group with the reservation did not chalk the space,” Mott said via email. “The MU staff will deem the appropriate time to prepare the space for the customer.  In the case of the plaza event for Thursday morning we chose to clean the space Wednesday night when staff was available.”

Mott acknowledges that the MU should not have been able to erase the chalk designs. She plans to take action to prevent an incident like SUPER experienced from happening again.

“The MU staff made a mistake in cleaning the public sidewalk for which we deeply apologize. This incident is being used to provide further training to our staff,” Mott said via email. “We recognize that by removing the messages we prohibited the students expression of free speech. We have met with some of the group’s members and apologized in person as well.”

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