Questioning free speech

EDITOR’S NOTE: It has been brought to our attention that the University has recently worked out a schedule with ABM, the contractors who take care of custodial work on campus, to clean the chalk boards in Freedom Square every Monday.

By: A Towson Student

I’m questioning how free speech actually is on campus. Not hate speech, or vulgarity, but verbal and visual protest against racism, rape culture, and hazing; three taboo issues that the campus community has failed to appropriately address.

Sunday night, from 9pm to 2am, a few volunteers and I got together to voice our frustrations using the power of images and the community chalkboards in Freedom Square. A mural was planned out beforehand, drawn up, and then filled in using a color-by-number technique. By 9am, all of our work had been completely erased. Nothing written or depicted went against the guidelines for the chalkboards that are clearly posted. The first image depicted a scene centered around the rumored ingredients of the alleged concoction that landed a TKE fraternity pledge in the hospital in early April: bleach, pickle juice, cat food, and alcohol, surrounded by red solo cups. Keys with pepper spray attached are also in the scene, symbolizing the very real threat posed against female students when predatory behavior is not only tolerated and expected, but encouraged in certain situations.. Change was drawn being thrown into the scene from the upper left-hand corner, referencing the assault on the CLA Cafe staff member that happened last week. Written in the smoke that congregates in clouds at the top of the work, coming from a burning cigarette in an ashtray drawn in the lower right-hand corner, was written “HAZED & CONFUSED…. WHY RAPE CULTURE & RACISM IS TOLERATED BY TOWSON”; a Led Zeppelin pun, followed by a statement that a whole lot of Towson students who worry about their own safety want to know the answer to. This wasn’t meant as an attack on the administration; It was a confrontation of the student body of Towson as a whole. My goal was to start a conversation that so desperately needs to be held between students, faculty, and Towson’s administration about the reality of the campus experience, and the lack of safety and respect that women and students of color feel when aggressive and inappropriate behavior is tolerated.

“WE’RE ARMED WITH VOICES” was written above an image that combined the handle of a gun with the speaker of a megaphone. Incendiary, yes, but the motive was not to promote violence, but speak out against it. Conversation combats violence and leads to greater understanding. With little lightning bolts of encouragement, and half a chalkboard of blank space with #TheTowsonIKnow as a jumping off point, viewers could add to the mural and make their individual experiences with these issues known anonymously.

“I was sexually assaulted before classes even started. All the administration did was relocate the boy to a different residence hall…but he just did the same thing again.”

This was the first statement written in that blank space. It is those sort of stories that enrage me. Overhearing the words ‘faggot’ and ‘nigger’, overhearing jokes about rape and assault in the dining halls, that enrages me. Black students feeling unsafe, disrespected, and silenced, this enrages me. Being told that getting groped at a party isn’t something to be upset about because it’s unavoidable, that enrages me. Realizing that an experience with sexual harassment is something the majority of Towson’s female students have in common, this enrages me. The panning of the marquee above the chalkboards read “let your voice be heard”. So I did. And I’m wondering why it was not allowed to be heard.

Sincerely,

K.O.

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