The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Sidewalk chalk messages are no place for debates

4 min read
By JACK POLLARD Staff Writer Surely you‘ve seen them by now. They‘re most likely positioned on your way to class, through the tunnel, or on the front steps of the UC: the messages, written in chalk and practically littered along Campus Walk.

Grace Winfield | Blue and Gray Press


Staff Writer

Surely you‘ve seen them by now. They‘re most likely positioned on your way to class, through the tunnel, or on the front steps of the UC: the messages, written in chalk and practically littered along Campus Walk. They‘ve sprung up within the last week, and since the first ones were laid, the affair has become somewhat chaotic.

Originally arguing for pro-life views on campus, it did not take long before people took notice, and took action. People who had chalk, either from their own message writing, or who simply owned it, quickly wrote their own pro-choice messages in an effort to one-up their pro-life counterparts. Others simply smeared or scuffed out the messages that they opposed as a means of censorship. I personally witnessed a young man take a sip from a water bottle before pouring out the rest of the contents onto a pro-life message placed just outside the area between Eagles Nest and the Simpson Library.

I‘m not about to start reprimanding folks for attempting to engage their community. However, what we have here is not engagement, and I’d hardly consider it argumentation. Writing out messages in sidewalk chalk is not a means for conversation or promotion of an ideal. It is, in essence, a kind of game, where two teams attempt to score meaningless points against the other, as both sides retreat further into their corners, away from the opposition.

Instead, we should use chalk for other, more constructive means. A sidewalk is no place for an argument, but it is place for promotion. Clubs can use these messages to promote themselves or upcoming events on campus. Fundraisers, shows/productions and game days are examples of healthy promotion. And there are things that can be done outside of chalk. Just last week, the Planned Parenthood Club had set up a small stand outside the UC, prompting passerbys to “share their pro-choice stories.”

This is a good example of healthy promotion, both of their club, and of the views expressed by the clubs individuals. It engaged the community, and set up a way for folks to share their experiences and express their ideals. Simply writing out “We are not the pro-life generation,” or scuffing out a message you don’t agree with, is not an example of healthy promotion or discussion.

My issue with these specific messages lies with the content of and the intent behind the messages themselves. Scrawling on sidewalks is no place for a discussion on the merits on pro-life v. pro-choice. Putting aside the likelihood that many message-writers, or counter-message-writers, aren’t looking for a discussion on the issue in the first place, there are many more constructive ways to have such a debate.

I suggest that a public discussion promoting civil conversation between both sides could be organized on campus, so long as they do so respectfully and in a well informed manner. However, this is not a solution in and of itself. To have such an event would likely garner a lot of backlash, both among the specific communities on either side of the argument and the student populace at large.

I would hope that we, as well educated, thoughtful, and open-minded individuals might be able to allow such an event to take place, because I do genuinely believe it could promote healthy discussion among the student body, and grant students a challenge to their established views. However, one only has to look at any recent headline to hear about college campuses booing guest speakers off the stage to get an idea of how such an idea could turn ugly and unhealthy.

With that said, it is the informal approach I argue for the most. Again, putting aside the likely fact that most people who would write out pro-life and pro-choice messages on the sidewalk aren’t going to budge an inch on their views, I would fully encourage people to step out of their comfort zones and have a discussion on their own. Get in contact with a member of an organization you oppose, be it pro-life, pro-choice, second amendment supporters or metal straw advocates.Talk to them, not as a member of the opposite party, but as a fellow human being and student. Make friends with your opposition, learn to see the potential flaws in your position and the potential merits in others point of view.

I’m aware that debates are not going to change everyone’s minds. In today’s highly-polarized political climate, debate is not about the argumentation of ideas and the search for a better ideal or system, but about “winning.”

Meet your enemy. Talk to your opponents. Learn from one another and grow. Shouting at each other from a chalk-covered sidewalk is no way to discuss any idea, and overall it is harmful to the concept of discussion altogether.