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Statement of Vice Chancellor Lori Reesor and Deputy Vice Chancellor and Chief Diversity Officer LaVar J. Charleston on campus chalkings

September 8, 2022

It was a wonderful first day of classes on Wednesday in so many ways, from the sunshine to the great energy on Library Mall and Bascom Hill. We love seeing our students back on campus.

However, we were disappointed that this was marred by multiple sidewalk chalkings appearing around campus, targeting several Jewish student groups labeling them as “racist,” “genocidal,” and “having blood on their hands.” These labels are antisemitic: they attribute broad actions or beliefs to Jewish student groups.

To those Jewish students and others affected, we are sorry for the impact this had on your first day of class at UW. We truly strive to create a campus where every student feels they belong, and this kind of messaging harms that goal and aspiration.

Our job as leaders is not to respond every time a controversial or offensive incident happens on our campus. However, these chalkings provide us a timely opportunity to express our expectations for civil engagement for the campus this fall and as we move forward together.

Here at UW, we believe in sifting and winnowing and a robust commitment to free speech. That can be difficult and uncomfortable at times. While we do not know who created these chalkings, and acknowledge the impact they had, nonetheless we also acknowledge they represent free speech which is a core value at UW. Just because something isn’t prohibited doesn’t make it a good idea. Our expectation is that we engage across differences and discuss varying views and ideas with civility and respect and that did not happen here.

We strongly believe that we learn best in environments that are inclusive and where people feel listened to and heard. Statements targeting students or other student groups, while not against the law or campus policy, violate our norms and actively work against the culture of belonging for which we are striving.

To our entire community, we hope you hear our calls for civility and kindness while at the same time, embracing vigorous, honest debate. Please use this semester to respectfully engage with one another while deepening our culture of belonging.