After Minority Students Complain About Pro-Trump Chalk Messages, Appalachian State Limits Free Speech

In response to conflicts among students over pro-Trump chalk messages on the campus of Appalachian State University, the Board of Trustees rewrote school policy, putting support of minorities over laws that protect free speech at public universities.

In early September, students at App State started scribbling messages in chalk across campus. It was a war of words on pavement between pro-Trump students and anti-Trump students. Some students complained, saying the messages were racist and offensive.

Initially, Chancellor Sheri Everts responded by upholding principles of a free society. In a letter to students on September 15, she reminded them that “at Appalachian, we staunchly support free speech and academic freedom.”

We encourage our community to debate vigorously, challenge and defend ideas, and advocate for your positions. At the same time, we must hold one another accountable to do so in a manner that does not demean, vilify or attack the humanity of [other] community members. In a democratic society, we often experience a clash of ideas, but no one is “less than” anyone else. To attempt winning an argument by endeavoring to marginalize others kills intelligent discourse and is an affront to true democracy.

I encourage each member of our community to hold fast to their ideals and beliefs, and in doing so, respect the humanity and individual value of others. As we move forward together, let us accept the challenge to embrace our best selves.

That didn’t put an end to the controversy, however, as students continued to complain that the chalked messages were offensive and they didn’t feel safe on campus. The chancellor described the incidents as “near-physical altercations and expressions of worry about possible physical attacks.”

The Board of Trustees and Faculty Senate decided to take action by updating the school’s chalking policy to allow only “recognized student organizations and University departments for the purpose of promoting events or programs that occur at Appalachian State University or in the Boone community with a specific date, time, and location.”