From the community | No one should have washed away the chalk

May 5, 2022, 8:30 p.m.

Katie Eder is a sophomore majoring in American Studies and minoring in Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity.

On Monday at around 10:30 p.m. I was walking my dog, Llama, as I do every night. Having just spent the afternoon and evening inundated by the news alerts and social posts about the Supreme Court’s leaked decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, I felt frustration, grief and, frankly, exhaustion over the state of this country. 

As we walked through Meyer Green and headed toward the bookstore, I noticed a few people hunched over writing something on the ground in chalk. Having just seen the fliers for Planned Parenthood’s pro-choice poster-making event, I assumed it was people preparing for the next day. But as I got closer, it became clear that the chalkers were not writing pro-choice messages.

Written all over the ground at the top of White Plaza, surrounding the “We Stand With Survivors” banner honoring National Sexual Assault Prevention Month, were messages like “Abortion is murder,” “Overturn Roe v. Wade” and “Life begins at conception.” 

Seeing the thick yellow and red lines of that chalk, I was struck by the reality that there are students at this school who are so excited by Roe v. Wade being overturned that they wanted to publicly proclaim it. I’d later learn that these students were part of Stanford College Republicans (SCR) and Stanford for Pro-Life. Yet they were also my classmates and peers. And this was what they believed.   

I knew there was no way I could simply go to sleep. I rushed back to Stern, called anyone and everyone who’d show up, and stuffed boxes of chalk I had leftover from another event into my backpack. I gathered a few friends from the dorm and together we set out to White Plaza.

Upon arriving, it was clear I was not the only one who had seen the chalk and jumped into action. There was a group of about six other people who were in a clear confrontation with Stephen Sills, the president of SCR and lead chalker. The group who had just arrived was holding a giant trash bin filled with water and dumping it on the chalk messages. One of the people in the group, Eva Jones, was being questioned by Stephen as he held up his phone in front of their faces, flash on, recording. 

I called out to Eva, and she came over. I let her know I had chalk, and we both agreed to stop with the water and instead cross out their messages and write our own. We felt it was important for people to see that there are students in our community who hold strong anti-choice views. But we also needed to show we weren’t going to let those statements go unacknowledged. She let the rest of her friends know and we got to chalking. 

For the next almost two hours, past 1 a.m., about 30 people covered White Plaza with slogans such as “My Body, My Choice,” “Roe v. Wade Saves Lives,” “Protect Women and Trans People” and my personal favorite, “If you don’t like abortions, get a vasectomy.” We blasted Eva’s “pu$$y punk” playlist through a speaker and danced, hugged, cried and chalked together. After we plastered the Plaza and were down to nubs of chalk, we called it a night. I fell asleep a little past 2 a.m. with a lot of love for the community and connection that came out of this otherwise dark day. 

The next morning, I headed out to walk my dog and see all the beautiful chalk in the daylight. As I approached White Plaza, my heart sank. All the chalk was gone. Every last slogan and uterus drawing from the night before, gone. It had all been washed away. 

I walked the perimeter in disbelief. Who washed the chalk? Was it SCR? The administration? And why?

As disturbed as I was, I couldn’t let our voices be erased. I yet again beelined out of White Plaza and went to hunt down more chalk. 

In the midst of the chalk search, I eagerly texted people I thought might have Stephen’s number. Finally, I managed to be put in a group chat with him. I explained that I wanted to write an op-ed about the events that had transpired the night before and asked if he would be willing to meet with me that afternoon to discuss. I wanted to know if he washed the chalk off. 

I set a time with Stephen, acquired more chalk, and took off again for White Plaza. There was already a group of organizers from the Planned Parenthood club setting up the poster-making for their “Bans Off Our Bodies” event. I explained to them what had happened the night before and they enthusiastically supported re-chalking White Plaza.

I opened up the boxes and started at the second round. As more people joined and my hands once again were covered in orange dust, that feeling of love and community came back. There were hugs and “déjà vu” jokes. And we did it a second time: we covered the ground with messages to stand up for what we know is true. “Our Bodies, Our Choice,” “Working-class and low-income people will be disproportionately impacted by the abortion bans” and “Safe Abortions Save Lives.” 

A few hours later, I met with Stephen. Sitting at the tables between the now chalk-covered plaza and Tresidder, we talked for 30 minutes. He told me about his life, his interests and his experience working with SCR. He explained that while he was glad we had written our viewpoints in chalk next to theirs, he had been frustrated that we had at first tried to wash away the chalk with water. 

He was fed up with feeling silenced by the rest of the student body and, without me even having to ask, disclosed that while he hadn’t returned later that night, he didn’t try to stop the members of the club who came back after we left, filled trash bins with water from the Claw fountain, and washed away the chalk. 

Hopefully by the time you read this, you can still see the second round of chalking across White Plaza, and get a clear sense that I, and many other students, wholeheartedly, and adamantly believe that people should have full control of their bodies. But that’s not the point of this piece.

The point I want to make is this — no one should have washed away any of the chalk. 

I understand why, after seeing anti-choice chalk, the reaction a few people had was “we have to wash this away. We can’t let this be the message people see in the morning.” That was not dissimilar to my reaction. I just happened to have chalk on hand to write our own messages rather than erasing the statements that were disagreeing. As soon as the group of people who had come with the water saw that we had chalk, they realized the best way to drown out anti-choice messages was not with water, but with messages of our own. 

We are living in a time where polarization in this country and hatred for those with opposing political views is more extreme than it’s been in decades. We also are living at Stanford University, a college which dramatically limits students’ ability to express political views publicly. White Plaza, designated the “free speech” zone, is the only place on campus we’re even allowed to do things like chalking.

We, as students and future leaders, have a responsibility to do better than the adults around us. We cannot and should not silence each other. We should disagree. We should argue. We should scream our opinions from the rooftops to make sure they’re heard. But silencing others as a way to have your voice dominate is not transformative. It’s not radical. It’s cancel culture that’s preventing us from having honest discourse.  

This rule, like most, is never hard and fast. There are times when speech instigates violence or expresses hate. However, when the news spotlights a critical issue and our elected officials and political leaders are taking actions that we disagree with or we support, we have to be able to talk about the issues. That’s not always easy but it is necessary. 

College is the time to be challenged. Most of us will never be in as safe of a place to debate with each other as we are now. We must take advantage of that. 

Now’s the time. Figure out what you care about. Learn how to construct an argument. Develop your voice. And use it. 

The spelling of Stephen Sills name has been corrected. The Daily regrets this error.

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