Graffiti raises questions about chalking policy

| News Editor

Chalking has become a common publicity tactic for students and student groups throughout campus, but the policy on what types of chalking are legal remains unclear to many.

Both Washington University and Student Union (SU) have policies to regulate chalking, and according to SU Vice President of Administration Jeff Nelson, due to a couple of incidents this year, SU needs to revisit and further clarify its policies.

Currently, SU’s handbook “How Things Work” directs students to “chalk only on sidewalks and do not chalk anywhere that rain cannot reach!”

The University’s policy states that chalking “is allowed on uncovered sidewalks and pathways. Chalking is not allowed on buildings, walls, trees, covered sidewalks, or any other surface other than uncovered sidewalks and pathways.” Neither policy mentions what types of chalks are permitted.

According to the University’s policy in the handbook “Bearings,” a student group that violates this policy and chalks in restricted areas can be charged for cleanup costs and have their “South 40 space reservation access restricted.”

Junior Ciara Caprara, chair of SU Treasury’s Student Group Activities Committee, said that SU acts in accordance with the University’s policy.

Assuming that they adhere to University policy, non-SU groups are permitted to chalk.

“[SU’s and the University’s] are the same policy, but we just take responsibility for enforcing it for our student groups,” Caprara said.

Last semester a student running for SU Senate publicized his candidacy by spray painting his name across campus.

Although Nelson said that the student thought he was using temporary spray chalk, the student was sent to the judicial administrator and was docked votes that cost him election.

“Somebody needs to go back and look at this policy, and we need to clearly specify what type of things we can put on the surfaces because two incidents in one year is kind of bizarre,” said Nelson, a junior.

A Feb. 6 Washington University Police Department (WUPD) police report under the title “property damage” stated that an “unknown person spray painted ‘K’s’ on the walkways from Wohl Center to the intersection of Forsyth and Wallace” and that damage cleanup cost more than $1,500.

WUPD has since closed the case and referred it to the judicial administrator.

According to Chief of Police Don Strom, there is no police code regarding chalking, only a University policy.

This case was likely handed to WUPD because the K’s looked like graffiti.

The president and founder of “Drop Knowledge” magazine, a non-SU-recognized student group responsible for drawing the K’s all over campus, said that the K’s purposely emulated “street art” as the group members used stencils to draw the K’s.

“A lot of the team has a real respect for street art, so we used a method that they use a lot—stenciling,” said sophomore Monis Khan, the group’s president.

Khan, who did not say that he personally painted the K’s on campus, said that the group used landscape chalk—a type of temporary spray paint that is supposed to last between 10-15 days. Khan said he was aware that he was not allowed to use anything not permitted and tested landscape chalk to make sure that it was temporary.

“We didn’t want to ruin any property, so we check it to make sure that it didn’t do that, and it passed the that test,” Khan said. “Landscape chalk seemed like the best choice, because we wanted to be aesthetically pleasing.”

Khan said that the group unknowingly used the landscape chalk on a vertical surface outside the Danforth University Center (DUC), but that this minor violation should not cost them $1,500.

According to Khan, when the Office of Residential Life saw the K’s on the South 40, it assumed they were graffiti and called to have it professionally removed. Khan said this was a misunderstanding and the rain would have eventually washed the K’s away naturally.

“We’re not criminals. We were creative and we were effective,” Khan said.

The group is still waiting to meet with the judicial administrator, who will determine the consequences.

Both Nelson and Khan agreed that the existing policy on chalking needs to be updated—especially since the DUC offers several new potential chalking areas.

“I think it is unclear because in the existing policy I don’t think it specifies what type of chalk you have to use,” Nelson said.