By Gabriel Donahue, Editor-in-Chief
The ongoing conflict in Israel and Palestine has led to an influx of political messages being written on the chalkboards in Freedom Square at Towson University, creating an unconventional setting for discourse on the campus.
Examples abound of students responding to each other’s comments — on Tuesday, someone had written “Stand with Palestine,” while someone else added, “if you support Hamas.”
Hillel President Makayla Bernstein said someone had written “mass genocide” across a drawing of the Israeli flag on a Freedom Square chalkboard before a vigil held last Wednesday for Israelis killed in the attack on Israel by Palestinian militant group Hamas on Oct. 7.
However, students have started erasing others’ comments from the boards as well.
The chalkboards usually accumulate writing and drawings for days before being erased on Monday mornings, but have been filled and erased multiple times each day for the past week.
Video shared by at least one Towson student shows a group of students using a spray bottle and paper towels to erase “free Palestine” and details for a vigil for Palestinians from one of the chalkboards Monday evening.
One person called for people to stop erasing the boards, writing “authoritarian bigots need to chill or be chilled” on one that had been recently cleared.
Erasing the chalkboards is against the Freedom Square chalkboard guidelines, which follow the general chalking policy of the university, a Towson spokesperson said in an email Tuesday.
“It will be considered a violation of these guidelines if one removes or writes over another individual/group’s chalking,” the policy states.
The guidelines say that “chalking should not include discriminatory, threatening, harassing, lewd and/or obscene language.”
Jayden Johnstone, director of Legislative Affairs for the Student Government Association who served as the director of Sustainability and Civic Engagement from 2021-23, said in a message Tuesday that while students do have the right to contribute as they wish, there have also been people acting with what he considers ill will.
“There’s a difference from when someone erases something so that they can create their own project or idea, and someone erasing something simply because they don’t like the idea behind it,” he said.
Freedom Square, which is under the Lecture Hall, is a space dedicated as “a haven for freedom of expression and speech,” according to a Towson webpage. The outdoor chalkboards encourage students to write and draw, and have become a common place for student groups to advertise their meetings.
Junior Precious Oripelaye said she disagrees with people erasing the Freedom Square chalkboards.
Even if there is political messaging someone doesn’t agree with, Oripelaye said erasing it goes against the freedom that the chalkboards are meant to celebrate.
“You wouldn’t want people erasing what you wrote, so why do that to others?” she said.
Pratheek Kannan, a sophomore, said he can understand scenarios in which people would want to remove things from the board, but generally does not support doing so, especially for drawings that people worked hard on.
“Freedom Square is a place where you can do what you want, so that[erasing] is not something I’d recommend people to do,” Kannan said.
While there are various channels for dialogue surrounding current events, Johnstone said hostility is not helpful.
“I think that with recent events happening, there is this great opportunity for our students to have meaningful conversations about the events and the history behind them, but it gets us nowhere to be angry and malicious towards one another,” he said.