Chalkings targeting minority, trans individuals surface on Grounds

QSu, BSA respond with counter-chalking events

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QSU reported some of their messages had been watered-out soon after they were written.

Courtesy Quinn LeGallo-Malone

After controversial chalk messages appeared on Grounds in the early morning hours of April 18, both the Queer Student Union and the Black Student Alliance held counter-chalking events that evening to promote positive messages around Grounds.

The initial messages, which targeted minority and transgender individuals, attracted attention on social media sites like Yik Yak and Facebook.

Photo: Lauren Hornsby
Photo: Lauren Hornsby

Photos circulating on Yik Yak showed one chalked message reading “Confused about your gender? Look down your pants.” In an interview, one student noted a chalked message that read the “wealth gap explained,” which went on to state the average white IQ is 102 and the average black IQ is 87. These specific numbers can be found on at least two white nationalist sites.

Incoming QSU President Jack Chellman, a third-year College student, said the details about who chalked the initial messages are unclear.

“What we do know is that a series of transphobic and racist remarks were chalked somewhere on Grounds … and we are not entirely sure how many remarks were chalked,” Chellman said. “It looked like they were by the same person based on handwriting, and I think it really kind of blew up on Yik Yak.”

At the QSU’s counter-chalking, approximately 20 students participated and chalked messages like “We don’t stand for bigotry,” “#BlackLivesMatter” and “Love is love.”

Chellman said the QSU’s chalking was about “reclaiming space,” because the original chalking comments “created negative spaces on Grounds, or suggested that trans people or people of color or various other groups were not welcome at U.Va.”

“We’re trying to respond with taking back the space with positive messages about how everyone is welcome at U.Va. and bigotry is not tolerated and every space should be a safe space,” Chellman said.

First-year College student Hannah Melissa Borja participated in the QSU’s chalking, and had encountered one of the originally chalked messages the night before.

Borja said she and a friend were walking back from Old Cabell Hall at around 12 a.m. April 18 and encountered the message about the “wealth gap explained” on a sidewalk along McCormick Road, near Thornton Hall.

“We didn’t see anybody else around, we didn’t see anybody writing anything else … so I took my shoes and I was just like scuffing it and messing it up,” Borja said.

Her friend also poured water on the message, Borja said.

After Borja returned to her dorm, she received a text from her friend around 12:30 a.m., explaining that the same message they had blurred out was re-written directly below the original chalking.

Borja said she went back out and scuffed up the message. She said one of her hallmates found the exact same chalk message at another location on Grounds the next morning.

University students and prospective students should not have to encounter racially charged messages like the one she blurred out, Borja said.

“The Days on the Lawn kids and minority students here, I don’t want them to see that and I don’t think any of us want them to see that,” she said.

After the QSU’s counter-chalking on the evening of April 18, it was reported that the new chalk messages were defaced shortly after they were created.

One message written near the Amphitheatre — "We don't stand for bigotry" — had the word “don’t” washed away to then read “We stand for bigotry.”

Chellman said messages near Observatory Hill Dining Hall were also “vandalized.”

“This evening the Queer Student Union was notified that some of our messages of inclusivity and acceptance across Grounds were vandalized only moments after we had chalked them,” Chellman said in an email statement. “We are deeply unsettled by this development, and it hits especially hard coming so soon after a night of empowerment and pride. This incident, however, as disturbing as it may be, leaves us just as proud to stand up for who we are and what we believe in as before.”

The QSU is reporting the incident to the University administration and maintains its “strong belief in the importance of bringing safe space creation into University discourse,” Chellman said.

The BSA’s counter-chalking campaign took place the same evening of April 18. One of the BSA’s messages responded to the the wealth gap chalkings students reported seeing.

“245 years of Slavery + 150 years of Legal Racism = Wealth Gap Explained,” the BSA chalked outside of Clemons Library.

The BSA also chalked phrases like "Your Black is Beautiful" and "Hoos in Solidarity," BSA President Bryanna Miller, a second-year College student, said in an email statement.

In a statement released April 19, the BSA said “such disgusting and deceitful hate speech has no place in our community” and thanked community members who have erased the initial chalk messages.

The messages could have also impacted prospective University students, the BSA said.

“Not only were these messages hurtful to current students of color, it is incredibly unfortunate that some admitted members of the class of 2020 were witness to something so ugly, so cruel and so ignorant,” the statement read. “We hope that these future Hoos will still consider attending the University of Virginia.”

In the statement, the BSA said the University community still has work to do in order to become a more inclusive place, but said it believes “that minority students and allies in particular are powerful forces for change.”

The BSA also noted its chalking efforts and said it is calling upon the University to conduct “a thorough and ongoing investigation.”

The Z Society also sent flowers, Bodo's bagels and a supportive note to the University LGBTQ Center on the morning of April 19, according to a post on the center’s Facebook page.

“Thank you for your strong, immediate and positive response to the chalking found around Grounds yesterday,” the Z Society wrote in its note. “We, too, care deeply about this community exuding love, understanding, inclusivity and safety, and we appreciate you mobilizing and countering the forces that oppose this goal.”

Pat Lampkin, vice president and chief student affairs officer, Dean of Students Allen Groves and Maurice Apprey, dean of the Office of African-American Affairs, released a statement April 19 condemning the original chalk messages.

“Yesterday afternoon, we learned that one or more individuals, who have not been identified and who may or may not be members of the University community, left chalked statements on sidewalks in two different areas of the Grounds,” the release said. “The statements can only be characterized as racist and transphobic.”

The University officials said they are grateful for students who used the Just Report It system to alert them about the “acts of harassment” against members of the University community.

“A bias-motivated act against any one of us is an act against all,” the release said.

The officials said “misplaced anger and resentment,” “the thrill of anonymity” or “a desire to divide our community and instill mistrust” may have led an individual or group of people to chalk the messages.

“Regardless of motive, we condemn these cowardly acts done in the dark of night, and we affirm our support for all members of the University of Virginia community, especially those who appear to be the targets of this uncivil and small-minded act,” the release said. “Likewise, we affirm our values as a community based on trust, mutual respect and diversity in its membership.”

Student Council released a letter April 20 in response to the April 18 chalking of messages targeted toward racial minorities and transgender individuals.

In a letter addressed to the University community, the Student Council Representative Body condemned “the bigotry of the defacers of our University Grounds.”

“Though the chalkings targeted specific groups, we recognize that these messages were an attack on all oppressed minorities and that all hate stems from the same bigoted roots,” the letter said. “We will not tolerate prejudice in any of its forms, whether it be transphobia, racism, homophobia, queerphobia, sexism, classism or any other form of hate.”

The Representative Body said the chalking incident requires a larger conversation about tolerance and acceptance.

“The Representative Body invites the greater University community to join us in rejecting indifference and passive affirmation of bigotry wherever it may present itself and to actively addressing the evils of prejudice that may exist within our community,” the letter said.

The letter commended the Queer Student Union, the Black Student Alliance and allies on Grounds for their efforts to spread positive messages following the initial chalkings.

“Ultimately we must reaffirm that these acts of hatred do not represent the U.Va. community and in no way are apart of what U.Va. stands for,” the letter said.

The Representative Body called on the University to “fully and openly conduct investigations on this matter” and requested “the administration continue to address these concerns publicly.”

The letter invited students to attend Minority Intersections Thursday night. The event will include a panel, dialogue groups and a town hall discussion. 

This article has been updated to include the joint statement from Lampkin, Groves and Apprey, as well as the statement from Student Council.

Correction: the photo of the "wealth gap explained" was previously attributed to Borja.

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