Content Notes: Racism, sexism, alt-right politics
Chalked political messages on the sidewalks is against the rules at DePaul University, but that isn’t stopping the College Republicans. During the spring last year racist messages chalked on the Lincoln Park Chicago campus created such a toxic atmosphere that the school decided to ban political chalking from campus grounds. Many of those chalkings were supportive of Donald Trump’s campaign during the primary, and came after conflicts over racism on the University’s Facebook page and suggestions from the Black Student Union about ways to make campus safer for students of color.
Not long after that, at the end of a school year full of racial conflict and prejudice at DePaul University, the College Republicans group on campus invited hate-monger Milo Yiannopoulos to speak on campus. His talk was met with protests in which students of color managed to break into the room and occupy the stage on which he was speaking. This lead to an angry mob of his followers heading out onto campus and violently attacking protesters. The president of the school, Father Dennis Holtschneider, handled this incredibly badly, basically blaming the students who protested Yiannopoulos and apologizing to the College Republicans group. The uproar in response to this letter likely contributed significantly to Holtschneider’s resignation soon thereafter. He is still president of the school, but DePaul is searching for his successor.
The school year ended with a noose hung at the entrance of the Sanctuary Hall Dormitory.
Then the 2015-2016 school year ended, and DePaul went quiet for the summer. Few students take summer classes, speakers don’t visit during the summer, and student groups are mostly inactive. As the school year approached University of Chicago let incoming freshman know that the school does not support trigger warnings or safe spaces, a move that seemed to forecast a tumultuous year for colleges in Chicago and across the nation.
At the beginning of the first full week of classes, Monday September 12th, students arrived to find that the chalk was back. The College Republicans, in preparation for their first meeting of the year, covered the sidewalks outside of the Student Center in racist, sexist, and political slogans, as well as slogans supporting Yiannopoulos and Breitbart editor Ben Shapiro. In addition to the examples below, other slogans included “WALLS WORK” and “Pro-Life Generation” (though the last is no surprise on a Catholic campus).
Some students, myself included, spent time and water scrubbing off some of the more upsetting slogans, but the rain that night finished the job. In the past grounds crews have also removed chalk from sidewalks on campus, and that may also have happened in this case but I don’t know.
These slogans don’t only state a specific political message, but also serve to make campus feel increasingly unsafe and unwelcome to students of color, women, trauma survivors, and other marginalized communities. The message isn’t just “vote for my candidate” but “you aren’t welcome here.” In fact, the real reason that so many people oppose trigger warnings and safer spaces is not really because they are interested in academic freedom (since neither of these things limit academic freedom in any way) but instead because these accommodate students from marginalized communities. Restricting trigger warnings, safer spaces, and related activity on a campus sends a clear message that higher education is for able, cis, white men and not the rest of us. THIS is why these sorts of messages are so upsetting – they said very clearly that our fellow students do not believe that we have the same right to an education that they do.
However, the next morning students arrived on campus to a much more friendly message. Rather than writing overtly political messages, another group of students covered campus with welcoming positive messages. These don’t combat the overt political messages left by the College Republicans, but instead go right at the underlying message. Instead of saying “You don’t belong here,” the new messages tell us “You are valued. We want you here. You deserve an education.”
I believe that the majority of DePaul students are welcoming of the diverse student population at this school. The College Republicans are loud, and unashamed of their bigotry, but I believe they are a minority of students at this school and I hope that other students took the message of hope we saw on the second day seriously. I certainly saw a lot more smiles on campus.