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University of Iowa Officials Re-evaluate Chalking Policy

IOWA CITY, Iowa ― University of Iowa officials are re-evaluating the university’s 6-year-old chalk art policy after an anti-abortion group’s sidewalk art caused a skirmish last week.

The Students for Life group says its members drew 3,200 hearts on a university walkway with the intention of showing pedestrians the number of abortions occurring in the U.S. each day.

The Iowa City Press-Citizen reports that the messages were power-washed away after university officials received complaints, raising questions about why those messages were removed but memos by other groups were left untouched.

Senior Sarah McCreary, president of Students for Life, said their crafted messages were meant to be positive and uplifting.

Bill Nelson, director of the Iowa Memorial Union and the UI Center for Student Involvement and Leadership, said the messages were removed because they didn’t comply with a policy requiring chalked messages to advertise upcoming public events hosted by a recognized student organization.

“We understand the policy is not perfectly clear to everyone,” Nelson said via email. “Now that the Students for Life have brought the ambiguity in the policy language requiring that the chalking publicize an upcoming organization event to our attention, it is being revised.”

University of Iowa officials currently bans chalking on campus, with exceptions for three designated sidewalks. The policy also allows university employees to remove messages that include obscenities, profanity, hate speech or “any message threatening individuals or groups of people to incite physical or psychological harm.”

Nelson said enforcement of the policy is normally driven by complaints.

McCreary said she wasn’t aware that chalking could only be done for events. She also said she was confused why officials didn’t remove other messages on the walkway she claims were in violation.

Campaigns featuring chalk on campuses nationwide have prompted debates between champions of the right to free speech and those who contend campuses should be free of messages they consider offensive or even threatening.

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