Emory University Committee Says Pro Trump Chalkings Are Permissible Free Speech.

A student writes a message in chalk following Milo's appearance at Emory University.
A student writes a message in chalk at Emory University.
If you are sensitive to microagressions, now is the time to get in your safe space. The Emory University Senate Standing Committee for Open Expression issued a 12 page report covering the incidents of students writing their support for Donald Trump in chalk around campus. The committee decided to investigate the chalkings, along with similar incidents on the campus, following student complaints of intimidation.

The committee found that the chalkings were protected expression under university policy:

Some parties had expressed a concern that the chalked messages “were meant to intimidate rather than merely to advocate for a particular candidate, having appeared outside of a Georgia election or campus campaign activity.”15 But Emory Community members’ open expression rights do not depend on whether an election in Georgia is imminent or whether a political campaign has been active on campus; and there is no reason to presume an intent to intimidate when political messages appear outside of those contexts.

In any event, a statement like “Trump 2016” is core political expression. If any expression is protected under the Policy, clearly this includes expressions of support for or opposition to candidates or their policies. This is true whether the statement is made honestly, ironically (e.g., “Billionaires for Bush”), or with any other subjective intent. Therefore, whether the chalkings were made to intimidate or “merely to advocate for a particular candidate” is not relevant to whether they are protected expression under the Policy.

The committee also examined a complaint arising from the display of a poster depicting Donald Trump as Hitler and a Ku Klux Klansman, and found that expression acceptable under university policy:

A Community member filed a bias incident report based on discomfort with the Hitler imagery. However, to suggest that Trump is similar to Hitler (or to a Klansman), and to express this in pictures, is fully protected under the Open Expression Policy. Nor does this poster express bias toward anyone—and certainly not to any victims of Hitler or the Ku Klux Klan, since the poster is implicitly critical of Hitler and the Klan. At most, the poster is critical of fascists, but political philosophy certainly cannot be grounds for a bias report; and perhaps the poster is also critical of the United States, to the extent that it might be read to suggest that fascism is “thoroughly American.” But, as noted above, being critical of the United States does not imply opposition to any group of people; and in any event, expression on subjects of social and political interest cannot be a bias incident. Therefore, the use of the bias incident reporting system in this case was improper.

Writing in the Washington Post, Eugene Volokh, brother of Open Expression Committee member Sasha Volokh said that “I think [the report] faithfully interprets the policy as offering broad protection for student speech. The opinion has no formal precedential value, as I understand it, but I suspect that in practice it will be quite influential.” You can read the entire report here, complete with its 53 footnotes.

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Dave BearsexdogNoway2016 Recent comment authors
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12 pages? 53 footnotes? God, my alma mater is populated by weenies..:


I like to keep up but reading Emory’s parsing of their moral position regarding the intersection of political speech and chalk-on-campus is asking too much. Someone with time and wit should scrawl the whole damn report on Emory sidewalks.

Dave Bearse
Dave Bearse

Emory University has the 16th largest endowment of any US university. It’s contributors getting their money’s worth.