Chalkings Step In The Right Direction

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

The discussions about last year’s chalkings were lengthy and at times painful, but it looks like we actually learned some lessons from it. So far, the chalkings have taken important steps towards more effectively balancing personal self-expression and political statements with consideration for the feelings of others.

Primarily, we would like to thank the Coming Out Week Planning Committee for their sensitivity to survivors’ issues. Sexually explicit imagery can be upsetting and triggering for survivors of sexual violence as well as for other members of the community.

The committee sent out an e-mail to the Swat Survivors list and the SQU list explaining that “what we plan to do this year… is to encourage those who plan to draw sexually explicit chalkings to do so only on two specifically designated areas: Magill Walk (but not on the cross-sections) and Kohlberg Courtyard (around the benches, not where people have to walk to get to class).”

Individual chalkers for the most part followed this guideline, and this was a step in the right direction. Students who wanted to create explicit sexual chalkings in order to express their identity were able to without infringing on survivors’ rights to a safe space.

We do wish that this decision had been publicized more widely, perhaps in the Reserved Students Digest, so that more people would have been aware of potentially upsetting chalkings. Not every survivor is on the Swat Survivors list, and more importantly, survivors are far from the only people with legitimate objections to having to view hypersexual imagery and language without their consent.

We also appreciated the diversity of opinions expressed in chalk. In years past, the chalkings have been read as symbols of a monolithic queer community (even though they never were), but this year it was clear that the queer community is as diverse as the campus itself.

The courtyard of Kohlberg was full of genitalia, and “being queer is about who I want to f*ck” expressed the opinion that queerness is best expressed through sexual imagery. At the same time, “Alan Turing is my hero (though it’s primarily because he was a mathematical genius)… he wouldn’t have wanted to be remembered as a martyr of the queer community” and the listing of queer heroes between Parrish and Tarble showed that not every queer student would agree, and we thank the chalkers for expressing their varying opinions.

We hope that the chalkings will continue to be a liberating experience for queer students and that they will challenge all students to question their assumptions about gender identity and sexuality.

We also hope that no matter where the debate goes, we will remember that everyone is a human being whose experiences and opinions deserve our respect–we’ve made a good start so far.

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