Chalk incident response: big talk, little action

Conversations on follow-up, bias and free speech have yet to yield results

Photo courtesy of Twitter | The Bias Advisory and Response Team has yet to determine if the washing away of Students for Life’s chalk drawings on Oct. 17 was bias-related.

It’s been two weeks since Xavier Students for Life’s (XUS4L) chalk art was washed away from sidewalks outside Kuhlman Hall and near Herald Avenue. Buzz of the incident has permeated campus life and grabbed the attention of a national organization.

The incident is currently being dubbed a “perceived bias incident” by the Bias Advisory and Response Team (BART) and is still under investigation with the Dean of Students Jean Griffin. According to Taj Smith, director of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, the incident will receive an official bias ruling after an investigation to determine if it meets BART’s bias incident definition.

“BART is working with SGA to consider opportunities for campus-wide dialogue on respectful debate across differences,” Dean of Students Jean Griffin said. The Student Government Association (SGA) discussed the incident during its weekly Monday meeting on Oct. 22.

President Johnny Srsich and Vice President Cole Stautberg both supported more conversation on campus to spark discussion. SGA members went back and forth discussing if the incident was truly bias-related or not but did not come to a conclusion.

Senators Sam Peters, Tyler Harmon and Robyn Arnould also discussed what it means to have pro-choice voices on a Catholic school campus.

The incident was not discussed during the Oct. 29 meeting. SGA is waiting to hear more information about the investigation before doing any follow up, according to SGA Adviser Dustin Lewis.

XUS4L declined to comment further on the incident.

Students across campus had mixed reactions to the incident. Senior nursing major Tessa Mills said that as a Catholic university, Xavier should “stand for what Catholics stand for” and not sweep the incident under the rug simply because it is controversial.

“Either you’re a Catholic… university or, you’re not standing for what you believe in,” Mills said. “I think (washing away the chalk art) should be a bias incident.”

Senior liberal arts major Lauren Dencker also focused on Xavier’s Catholic and Jesuit heritage.

“It’s a private institution, and we kind of waive our rights away to the institution itself,” Dencker said. “Though, the climate of Xavier has progressively been changing away from its Jesuit and Catholic roots… so in 30 years — maybe even less than that — will this be the Xavier that is an actual institution of Catholic social teaching and Jesuit tradition?”

First-year nursing major Laura Life supports pro-choice voices on campus as well and said that everyone should have the freedom to speak, but that the chalk art vandals took that voice away from pro-life students.

XUS4L exists under the larger organization Students for Life of America. Following the incident, the organization released a press release and blog post on Oct. 25 detailing the incident at Xavier as well as another pro-life vandalism incident at St. Louis University, another Catholic institution.

The press release, titled “The Mob Comes to Catholic Schools,” criticized Xavier’s response to the incident, saying it has not been productive. The press release and blog post were written by Matt Lamb, a spokesperson for the organization.

“Campus security is investigating the issue, but the Bias Advisory and Response Team initially ruled that the incident was not bias, even though the students were clearly targeted for their beliefs,” Lamb wrote. “BART did send out a vague e-mail (sic) noting a ‘perceived bias incident’ has been reported and are still looking into it.”

The blog post did not originally include accurate information regarding the undetermined bias status of the incident and was corrected on Oct. 29 after a request for interview.

Responses from the national Students for Life of America and XUS4L varied. In its editorial published in the Oct. 24 edition of the Newswire, XUS4L stressed the importance of free speech on campus and expressed love for everyone, even those who destroyed the chalk art.

“To our community members who participated in the vandalism, we would like you to know that even though we are hurt, we love you,” XUS4L wrote. “If at any point you would like to engage in a dialogue with us, you are welcome to.”

The national organization referred to students involved in washing away the art as “pro-choice vandals.”

In the press release, the organization’s president Kristan Hawkins was also quoted supporting free speech: “We respect the free-speech rights of all students, and we only ask that pro-choice students respect ours,” Hawkins said. “Sadly, under the influence of pro-choice politicians who incite violence and encourage kicking of conservative people, many students believe it is OK to commit violence against people they disagree with and for no other reason.”

Sophomore art major Bridget Walsh said that campus climate following this incident could negatively impact pro-life students, but not all of campus.

“They’re just going to think that the university is against them,” Walsh said. “In history, most universities tend to lean toward the liberal side unless you go to a super conservative university… I don’t think it’s going to have a huge effect on the climate of the campus.”

Walsh encouraged people to extend a hand to pro-life students and those affected so they don’t feel that the university is against them. “Everyone has their different political opinions but overall, ‘all for one, one for all,’” she said.

By: Hannah Paige Michels | Staff Writer