By Marc Ramsingh
This Spring semester we’ve seen an uptick in trans rights and LGBT activism on campus. This activism has been shown via social media, public demonstrations at Grawemeyer Hall, and chalk drawings around campus. These demonstrations all are considered free speech, but UofL’s physical plant department has been routinely erasing the chalk frequently, seeming to key on the LGBT-specific drawings.
In a sort of routine cycle starting in the spring 2023 semester, there have been chalk put up in abundant amounts regarding LGBT awareness and in the ensuing 1-3 days it’s been sprayed and erased by university workers. This is the only medium UofL has “relegated” the LGBT group.
An important question that must be answered is what does free speech look like on a college campus?
What is free speech on a college campus?
Free speech is a very valuable tool especially on campus for activism and this right must be protected and upheld. Public universities such as the University of Louisville that receive federal funding must abide by this.
Where the First Amendment doesn’t protect you on campus is when activism turns to harassment or threats that create an unsafe environment. On the University of Louisville’s campus, we’ve seen free speech engagements in a variety of ways and very few have turned to harassing or threatening. The recent LGBT activism has not acted in such a way and has been relatively peaceful.
One item to note is that as a publicly-funded university, the University of Louisville is not required to fund or “engage” with certain free speech acts. And according to “Rosenberger v. the University of Virginia” if it did it would have to fund all avenues of free speech and not be selective to individual beliefs. The University of Louisville is abiding by its own standards that go further than those set by the federal government.
Is chalk on the sidewalk considered free speech?
It is unclear how long a public display can stay up for before being “allowed” to be erased such as the case with UofL’s Trans activism chalk drawings. It is hard to put any limitations on any form of free speech as attempts in the past have thankfully failed.
U of L’s own speech codes support activism of all kinds. The student code of conduct states “As an institution of higher education, our definition of diversity must be truly expansive and include diversity of thought. For us, inclusion means creating and maintaining an environment where even the most oppositional stances can coexist peacefully”.
Chalk on the sidewalks and buildings of the university is free speech. Given U of L’s principles and standards and it’s very own obligations, it is plausible the physical plant department is committing a violation related to First Amendment rights.