Editorial: Policies should not be overlooked in favor of creativity

The Daily Northwestern Editorial Board

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When the Campus Chalker and two members of the political group Sincerely, America received citations for defacing city property recently, it highlighted a gray area between creativity and vandalism.

The group painted a half-mile long orange stripe along the east Sheridan sidewalk in order to promote their group’s neutral political stance. The Chalker has been decorating campus with his washable art since Fall Quarter.

According to the Guide to Student Organizations Handbook, taping and chalking “is allowed only on campus sidewalks that are exposed to the elements” and are forbidden on walls, doors, windows, trees and lampposts. Additionally, an Evanston city ordinance deems it unlawful for people to place signs on any sidewalk along Sheridan.

Although Sincerely, America’s paint was water-soluble, the organization should have followed the typical methods of advertisement: post flyers all over campus or paint the Rock. If they wanted more advertisement, they could create a large banner to hang up by the Arch.

Aside from violating school policy, the organization’s actions also raised an issue in terms of creating an even playing field in campus advertising. If one organization paints all over Sheridan Road, other groups could easily employ the same strategy, making the sidewalk a chaos of painted advertisements.

At a time when marketing campaigns are effective via social networking websites, such as Facebook and Twitter, groups should not risk defacing University property and creating an eyesore for the sake of promoting their organization.

The citation Sincerely, America received was justified and necessary. Such acts of property defacement, if left unchecked, will set a bad precedent for other students and student organizations to follow in the future. An unpunished misdemeanor encourages repetition of the same offense, which may in turn breed further instances of vandalism on campus.

The Campus Chalker’s case is more nuanced. Rather than advertising in a way that would give him an unfair advantage over other student groups, he was attempting to improve Northwestern’s aesthetic environment. Nevertheless, he also broke the law and must be prepared to accept the consequences.

In light of the recent defacement citations, The Daily urges students who wish to spread their viewpoints to educate themselves about University and city policies. If they choose to break them anyway, they must understand what lies ahead.