UC Berkeley enforces anti-chalking policy on activist-written messages

Victor Coffield/Courtesy

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UC Berkeley has seen a spate of chalk graffiti over the past few weeks, from “Straight Liberation Movement” to supportive messages for LGBT people and pro-animal rights slogans.

Most recently, campus staff washed away chalk messages voicing support for survivors of sexual assault and harassment. Protesters wrote the messages on and near the site of their Wednesday demonstration at Boalt Hall against the return of Sujit Choudhry, the former UC Berkeley School of Law dean, who was found by a campus investigation to have violated UC sexual misconduct policy.

Axenya Kachen, a UC Berkeley senior, organized the protest with another student, Pablo Gomez.

“I think for me it was disappointing but not unexpected,” Kachen said upon learning the messages had been washed away. “Chalking is a huge way to raise awareness for things on campus.”

UC Berkeley does not allow chalking on campus property at any time, according to campus spokesperson Adam Ratliff, adding that any messages are removed as soon as possible. Campus policy specifically does not differentiate between chalk, paint or permanent markings.

When chalking or any other graffiti are reported to campus police, the instances are documented with photos and a written report, according to UCPD Lt. John Suezaki. UCPD contacts Facilities Services, the campus unit in charge of groundskeeping and janitorial duties, which then must remove the graffiti.

Campus services washed away chalk messages at Boalt Hall on Thursday morning and in nearby planters written in support of survivors of sexual harassment, according to Berkeley resident Vic Coffield. Coffield said he saw a custodian using a hose, bucket and broom to clean the graffiti.

Coffield found the image striking enough to “jump up” from his chair at Caffe Strada and talk with the groundskeeper about why he was washing the graffiti away.

“That visual is a very strong statement that the university has its priorities all wrong,” Coffield said. “The students used chalk rather than totally vandalize the buildings. They could have used paint, which would have been really hard to get off. But they used chalk.”

Kachen said that while the campus had been quick to erase the messages in support of survivors of sexual harassment and assault, she felt campus police had not taken graffiti reading “Straight Lives Matter,” or SLM, as seriously.

“I almost want to laugh. Why is it OK to remove survivor support messages and not literal hate speech?” Kachen said.

Only one person was found responsible for the graffiti targeting the LGBT community, according to Suezaki. That man was given a citation for chalking Sept. 6 and received a stay-away order that forbade him from going on UC regents-owned property for seven days.

“I don’t think it was meant on purpose to be left up,” Suezaki said of the allegedly homophobic graffiti. “Anything that’s written on campus, it’s supposed to be erased as soon as possible.”

Anna Sturla is the lead student life reporter. Contact her at [email protected].