The writing on the walks
Cheaper than a newspaper ad, more
eco-friendly than flyers. No wonder students are chalking
thought here. So have thousands of laissez-faire theorists,
free spirits, and colorful eccentrics of one stripe
or another. That may be why, when it comes to chalking,
Chicago students are a relatively free bunch.
"Chalking?" you may ask—but
only if you've spent the past few months with your head
in the clouds—or far from any college or university. Like
crocheted ponchos, leather-fringed jackets, and other Sixties
styles, chalked messages are again a big mode on campus.
|What's flat and gray
and read all over?
So big, in fact, that many institutions
have developed rules governing their use. Some schools require
groups to petition for permission to chalk; at one institution
"unauthorized chalking" has been recorded on student
transcripts. At least one school forbids "counter-chalking"
within a certain distance of the original message, and many
institutions limit chalking to specific areas of the campus.
At Chicago "The (Almost) Red Tape"
section in the student organization resource guide contains
a single "Chalking on Campus" paragraph. After
announcing, "There is no need to get permission to
chalk," it continues: "When chalking, please use
water soluble chalk that can be washed away by rain. Groups
may not chalk on buildings, stairwells, or steps, on the
Quadrangle flag pole, or on anything other than sidewalks."
That boldface sentence is followed by: "Your group
may lose its chalking privileges if these guidelines are
So much for the medium, on to the messages,
where the guidelines for postings also apply to chalkings:
"The University of Chicago maintains a strong commitment
to a spirited and open exchange of ideas. Accordingly postings
will not be restricted on the grounds that their content
is objectionable, unless the content is libelous, obscene,
incites to riot or other unlawful action, or advertises
the availability of alcoholic beverages."
So what gets said? Sometimes the brightly
colored chalkings can look as childishly drawn as a ladder
of hopscotch squares, and the tone can be equally playful.
This week, for example, a series of Burma Shave-like messages
began outside 57th Street Books and ended at the Reynolds
Club: u of c lounge club. A
block farther west was scrawled: like
the hot chocolate club...except cool. Half a block
later the sidewalk writer inquired:
like sitting? The coda came at the corner of 57th
and University, right where the campus busses stop: u
of c lounge club. look 4 it.
More often, though, the pavements cover
the stuff of life and death. terrorism.
corporate responsibility for global aids. do you regret
being here? poetry, song, peace. remembering yitzhak rabin.
Many days my instinctive reaction seems left over from another
childhood game, "Step on a crack, you'll break your
mother's back," and I change gaits to avoid stepping
on the words that spell out other people's suffering.
Which is proof that chalkings hit their
mark: they entertain, they inform, they incite, they educate.
Unlike posters they don't have to be taken down; old messages
fade away. It's good to know new ones will appear.
— Mary Ruth Yoe