Chalkings: an important forum

Speaking for myself and not on behalf of the Bisexual Gay Lesbian Transgender Union (BGLTU), I find chalkings to be perhaps the most effective act that the queer community does at Williams to gain visibility on campus. That’s not to say that this is the only way to increase awareness on campus, but with College funding for only three visibility weeks throughout the year, it is both a thought-provoking and inexpensive approach to letting our normally invisible presence be known. Nothing written on the sidewalks was actually harmful to anyone, although people like to mention the preschoolers who are exposed to our messages. I would remind them that preschoolers cannot read, let alone comprehend references to gay sex. In response to the timing’s proximity to parents’ weekend, I would hope that Williams students’ parents are not so sheltered as to be unable to accept the co-existence of gay students with their own children.

Complaints always focus on the handful of supposedly offensive statements scrawled around the most central portions of campus, but most people ignore that the majority of what was written last Tuesday night was indisputedly innocuous. We disperse the occasional distasteful statement among a couple hundred messages of pride. I think it’s important for people to realize that it would simply be false if queers at Williams only chalked messages related to how wonderful it is to be gay. Not everyone feels that way, although the general community would like to pretend that we do. If we only expressed warm and fuzzy sentiments about gay love, no one would be forced to address the difficult issues that are involved for queers.

The chalkings serve an illuminating purpose beyond increasing our group’s visibility. They highlight the fear of discomfort that presides at this school. Look around campus and you’ll see nothing offensive unless it’s during Coming Out Days or Queer Pride Weeks. The comfort of our campus rests in the community’s unwillingness to offend. The reaction of the students who contacted the deans about the offense they took to our chalkings and the response of the deans in erasing some of the chalkings suggest to me that the general community feels threatened by the explicit, yet temporary, statements written on our sidewalks. People are reluctant to stretch their minds beyond the immediate shock from reading a reference to gay sex, seeing the words as an attack on their personal purity. I am not claiming that everyone who expresses offense at the chalkings is afraid of gays, but that they are afraid of feeling what kind of impact gays can have on their sense of comfort.

When the deans ordered the “offensive and non-gay related” chalkings erased in response to complaints on the morning after they were written, there is no doubt in my mind that the administration was acting on behalf of the comfort zones of the offended individuals and protecting the general community’s sense of safety. Such an action by the administration was an indirect – and misled – denial of students’ attempt to raise awareness by sparking discourse. How can we start a dialogue when our words are erased before people get the chance to read them? The deans claim to be upholding community standards, which is a very scary concept for the law-abiding students who represent the socioeconomic, political, ethnic, religious and sexual diversity on campus. Suppression of our free expression is a far more real threat for us than chalked references to anal sex are to the general community.

I am certainly not pleased that most students only associate the BGLTU with the semi-annual queer bash and chalkings. Ideally, there would not have to be a special group for queers on this campus to serve as a safe space and forum for discussion of gay issues. Without the support of the Williams community and the administration, which would rather erase our offensive messages than allow students to address them as we intended, I cannot help but feel discouraged about the future of our school. However, I sincerely hope this past week’s events will act as a spark in raising awareness, not only of the presence of queers, but of the dangerous silence that replaces the diverse voices of our fellow students.