Since phrases disparaging immigrants, Muslims and queer people appeared on campus sidewalks earlier in April, UC Santa Barbara administrators have been grappling with how to encourage free speech and maintain a welcoming environment for students.
UCSB Police Chief Dustin Olson said the chalking is currently under investigation. He said one of the markings on a university building was made using permanent marker, making it “more of a vandalism type incident.”
Olson said officers are reviewing surveillance video and asked that any students with information contact the department.
More than 200 students, faculty and administrators attended a town hall style meeting Thursday at Corwin Pavilion to discuss both the importance of free speech and how that free speech can make students, specifically racial and religious minorities, feel unsafe.
“This is going to be really tense,” said one student as she walked into the town hall, but the meeting was surprisingly civil after an initial argument over whether recording should be allowed.
Members of the UCSB community used markers to respond to questions on posters, such as “How can free speech on this campus create/disrupt our sense of community?” and “When has ‘free speech’ offended you on campus?”
Margaret Klawunn, the vice chancellor for student affairs, organized the event and said the chalk messages had escalated from endorsements of Donald Trump to words that “threaten” UCSB students.
“We care about finding that line that protects free speech and where it crosses over and begins to threaten and intimidate members of our community,” Klawunn said. “The messages changed from the beginning of the week when they were statements of political belief to the end of the week when they were very purposefully placed to threaten members of our community.”
At the town hall, attendees split into groups of about 30 and responded to questions on the posters, after which one representative of each group shared their discussion.
“The general consensus in our group is that there is a difference between hate speech and free speech and that we need to be cognizant to it,” said Kathy Swift, host of KCSB’s Radio Occupy.
Chancellor Henry T. Yang arrived halfway through the discussion and read a prepared statement.
“The acts of vandalism and hate speech … were deeply disturbing and not only violated the rule of our campus but violated the core of our university,” Yang said. “Any actions that undermine our sense of community are unacceptable, unwelcome and will not to be tolerated.”
Brandon Morse, fourth-year political science major, said he thought the town hall was “productive,” and that there should be a follow-up meeting that allows students to express themselves through poetry or speeches.
“I absolutely think that town hall meetings are the correct response — we need dialogue on campus,” Morse said. “It may be able to help, now that we have a general idea, to bring it down to the individual level.”
As of Saturday, 175 current and former faculty members had signed an online petition calling on Chancellor Yang “to publicly condemn the defacing of our campus in the strongest terms possible.”
“The perpetrators must know that they are condemned, isolated and marginalized by the university as an institution from the highest level,” the petition reads.
Morse called this part of the petition “unfortunate.”
“It’s a sad irony in the fact that [faculty] are creating a marginalized and isolated community, and as opposed to reaching out to them … they were treating the people in the same manner that they were trying to protect the community from,” Morse said.
Chancellor Yang said the university would take the petition “very seriously,” adding that the town hall was not the end of the discussion.
“This is not the ending, this is just the beginning,” Yang said. “We will continue the dialogue, the discussion, the discourse and reaffirm our commitment to having a diverse campus community that fosters an inclusive, respectful and supportive environment.”
Some students have already responded to the initial chalking, creating a large “Black Lives Matter” statement last week that encouraged UCSB to “practice empathy.”
At least one campus group is organizing its own reaction. A second “Million Student March” is planned for Thursday and organizers have chosen a theme of “reclaiming” UCSB from the anonymous chalk writers.
The event description encourages students to join the march “in an effort to RECLAIM our campus after heinous, racist chalk statements targeted at many marginalized communities at UCSB.” The group says it will address “each specific chalk statement” with new “chalk walls.”
University News Editor Maura Fox contributed reporting