Appalachian State University boasts its highly accredited business school and diverse graduate and undergraduate programs for students and, nestled within the quintessential college town of Boone in the mountains of Western North Carolina, there's no question as to why App State appeals to students across the country. In the last week, though, the school's campus has been less-than-welcoming to students, especially those of color.
With only 14% of its nearly 18,000 students (about 2500) consisting of ethnic minorities, Appalachian State wouldn't necessarily be considered ethnically diverse. This lack of diversity is being shown in the racist comments being drawn in chalk around campus in the last week.
These drawings are referred to as "chalkings," drawn by students at App being called "chalkers." The different images and words consist of anti-immigration and anti-Black Lives Matter (BLM) stances such as "BUILD THE WALL" and "White 'Privilege' is a Lie."
It doesn't stop at the drawings, though. According to ASU sophomore Michelle*, people of color have been experiencing harassment from the chalkers. Word spread among students of color to be aware of the students sitting outside of the library making these chalkings.
Michelle explained to Fresh U through Facebook Messenger the situation a friend of hers found herself in when trying to go study one evening:
"One of my friends was walking towards the library around 7 or 8 at night and she saw that they were chalking right in front of the library. She then got yelled at and verbally attacked."
Michelle said that students of color began to take pictures and video of what was happening outside of the library to file bias reports against the chalkers but were met by yells of "YOU PEOPLE are so sensitive!" and "Illegals are criminals!" It was when a student found herself distressed by the confrontation from the chalkers, that Michelle and her friends decided to wash the chalkings off.
They gathered a group of students of color and split up into smaller groups to begin erasing the chalkings throughout campus, replacing them with positive drawings and words. Michelle said that they only erased the "awful comments" and not the Trump 2016 advertising because it "wasn't attacking [them] directly." While they were doing this, the campus police followed them.
After arriving back to the library to remove the chalkings there, the chalkers began to harass the students further, calling them babies, thugs and criminals. One student, the supposed "ring leader" allegedly said that "multiculturalism is what is wrong with America," while his girlfriend told the students of color that they had "easy majors," implying that they were not smart.
Tensions built up and the police finally intervened, telling the students of color that they were being disruptive while one officer remarked that he would "rather be at home watching TV," according to Michelle. All of the students headed back home or into the library to prepare for their morning classes.
The next day, students like Michelle shared their pictures and videos of the previous night on their social media.
One post – made public by a student at Appalachian State – details the experience with the chalkers.
According to Michelle, chalkers began commenting on some of the social media posts (not shared here for privacy reasons).
"They started commenting on our stuff," Michelle said, "the ring leader's girlfriend stated that we had punched her and that we had knives, which was a lie because all we had were water jugs and chalk."
"Then some of them [the chalkers] started harassing people in their direct messages," Michelle continued. The chalkers posted pictures of the students erasing the chalkings, posting them to social media:
"They also posted a picture of one of my friends pouring water on the chalkings and they were fat shaming her, along with saying that they wanted to set her on fire and other horrible things."
Students also shared their reactions on social media with the hashtag #RacismAtAppalachian:
Other students chose to criticize the reactions to the chalkings:
Sadly, this isn't the first time ASU has had problems with students being unaccepting of minorities. Last April, a "Check Your Privilege" bulletin board in Lovill Residence Hall was intentionally set on fire by an unidentified student.
The school has done little to address these problems. Lily H., a student at App, told Fresh U on Facebook:
"The chancellor sent out a statement that was literally a copy and paste of what she sent out in April, so already it feels like they're just glancing over this again. While I am an advocate for free speech, there is a definite issue that has to be addressed."
Other ASU students have been expressing outrage about the chalkings. Erin Gunter, a sophomore, stated through text messages that the chalkings are, "just distasteful, honestly. They add more unneeded negativity."
Sydney Schulhofer expressed her concern on Facebook Messenger about how the chalkings will affect the image of the campus and the safety of students of color by telling Fresh U:
"I am disgusted that certain people have the audacity to write offensive things like that on our beautiful campus, and embarrassed that others will read about such a horrible thing that occurred at ASU. We are much better than this, much more intelligent than this and I hope that the offenders are dealt with in the proper fashion."
It doesn't look like, though, that these chalkers will find any punishment. Chancellor Sheri N. Everts released a statement in an email to students on September 15th defending the free speech of the chalkers, with no mention of actually addressing the topic at hand:
"At Appalachian, we staunchly support free speech and academic freedom. We encourage our community to debate vigorously, challenge and defend ideas, and advocate for your positions."
Students of color that feel victimized by the campus chalkers also seem to feel that they would be unprotected from harassment. When reaching out to students for quotes and information, Fresh U was able to only interview one student of color because others did not feel safe enough to release public statements, even with a name change. As Michelle told Fresh U, "They are kind of scared to say anything because of the [chalkers] stalking us on social media."
Fresh U reached out to Chancellor Everts and University Communications responded with the same email they sent to students this past Thursday. You can view it here.
Lead Image Credit: Michelle
*Some names have been changed for safety purposes.