Some Ohio State students gathered at the center of the Oval at noon on Friday to chalk over a large “Trump 2016: Build the Wall” message with messages of their own.
Messages reading “love knows no boundaries (or borders),” “immigrants welcome,” and “juntos we stand” or “together we stand” covered the red-bricked intersection of pathways, as more than 100 students stood on the surrounding grass to take photos, message on social media and pass around sticks of chalk.
The original message, showing support for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, appeared early Friday morning and signaled to some students a message of hate and exclusivity.
Several student-activist organizations began coordinating a counter message, which some involved students described as one embracing and celebrating diversity and inclusivity.
Isis Williams, a first-year in women’s, gender and sexuality studies, said she she came to chalk a message on the Oval after hearing about the growing crowd during class.
“There was a message that said ‘Trump 2016: Build the Wall,’ and, I guess, there was a picture of a wall under it. Now, we’re chalking over it with messages of love and support and equality,” she said.
The United Project, a newly formed student organization that grew from this year’s Haney-Henry Undergraduate Student Government campaign, worked with several other student groups to help organize the counter chalking.
“We really wanted to be as soft and as loving as possible,” said Jack Brandl, president of United Project and a first-year in public affairs. “We don’t want to infringe on anybody’s free speech.”
Amber Hussain, a member of the Muslim Students’ Association and a second-year in neuroscience, said that although the option came up, students quickly decided against trying to wash off the Trump message.
“I think if you washed it off, it’s kind of like brushing the racism that does exist here under the rug,” she said. “So, rather than washing it off, we wrote over it to say that our love is going to overpower your hate.”
Fatimah Masood, also a member of the Muslim Students’ Association and a second-year in biochemistry, said the cohort wanted to express the campus’ diversity and unity.
“There are different organizations here to show that it’s not about where you’re from or what you believe in; it’s more about accepting diversity and accepting that love is what matters most and division isn’t the way to go,” she said.
Friday’s “Build The Wall” chalking at OSU is the latest in a string of publicly written pro-Trump messages that have emerged on several college campuses, including that of Emory University in Atlanta in March and Ohio University on April 7. At those universities, the pro-Trump messages have also been met with adverse reaction from some within the respective student bodies.
David Stanislav, chairman of the College Republicans and a third-year in chemical engineering, came out to the Oval Friday afternoon to toss a football with a friend.
Stanislav said he didn’t personally support Trump but engaged several of the chalking students in a discussion about free speech on campus, adding that he felt the campus climate is unfriendly to some dissenting opinions.
“What I would say to someone who doesn’t support Trump is, when you’re encountered with an idea that is different from your own, approach it in a way that doesn’t infringe on free speech,” he said. “You’re free to chalk anywhere on the Oval, but just consider the idea of having someone else’s ideas expressed and don’t write any idea that you disagree with off as dangerous or something that needs to be erased.”
Lauren Todd, a fourth-year in English, said in her conversation with Stanislav that although some parties might be offended by different messages or their placement on campus, those considerations should be part of that conversation as it moves forward.
“The conversation itself is ongoing. It’s not something that can actually be concluded because free speech is not something that is concrete. It’s something that is literally liberal and free-flowing,” she said.
Stanislav said he appreciated the dialogue before leaving.
“I’m glad you guys were willing to (talk) … I’m glad that you guys, at least, seem like you understand my perspective better and I understand your guys’ perspectives better,” he said.
Brandl said the student cohort made a deliberate decision to leave the Trump message alone for several hours before chalking over it.
“We said, ‘Let’s not erase it; let’s let them have their free speech. Let’s just exercise ours as well,’” he said.