Shockers For Life sidewalk chalkings raise free speech questions


Audrey Korte

Shockers for Life claimed responsibility for the original chalkings.

UPDATE: On Sunday, Matt Lamb, a spokesperson for Students for Life of America, showed The Sunflower proof that they received permission from a Rhatigan Student Center event coordinator before chalking the sidewalk. The original information The Sunflower received from Teri Hall that Shockers for Life did not receive permission was incorrect.


On Friday morning, Wichita State students walking in front of the Rhatigan Student Center saw a host of messages written in sidewalk chalk about reproduction and the right to life. The largest message read, “we are the Pro-Life generation.”

Vice President for Student Affairs Teri Hall said the group responsible, Shockers for Life, according to the chalkings and the Shockers For Life Facebook page, will be asked to remove the chalkings because they didn’t have the necessary permission for the activity.

Shockers for Life is a registered student organization at Wichita State University. According to the bill recognizing Shockers for Life, the group’s purpose is to “establish an active pro-life culture among the youth of our community by educating our peers on life and by actively promoting the right to life for all persons (pre-born and born).”

Hall said she noticed the chalk statements from the window of her office Friday morning.

“I saw a bunch of chalking on the sidewalk that was probably 100 feet or so or, if not longer, and the statements were all pro-life kinds of statement — all kinds of different messages, Hall said. “Somebody spent a lot of time working on it.”

The Shockers For Life Facebook page posted photos of the chalkings late Friday morning with the message, “Our first chalking night was a success 💛 Thank you so much to all who helped us be a voice for the voiceless last night! Check out some highlights below & be sure to swing by the RSC to see the rest.”

Other sidewalk messages included, “You can be pregnant and successful,” and “abortion isn’t a reproductive issue — if you’re pregnant you’ve already reproduced.”

At some point later Friday, other people took to the sidewalk to write their own messages around those left by Shockers For Life.

“This afternoon, I again, actually looked out my window and saw some students writing or doing something with it,” Hall said. “I couldn’t tell really what they were doing. But there were two women out there that were doing something.”

Others later responded by chalking their own counter-message.
Others later responded by chalking their own counter-messages.

When asked if anyone would be removing the messages from the sidewalk, Hall cited current WSU policy about free speech activities.

“Our policy is that if you don’t have a reservation in for chalking, then Student Involvement will call them to say you need to clean this up,” Hall said. “The group who put it will have to clean it up.”

Hall said she believes this policy needs to be updated. 

“We need to change that. Chalking is an exercise of free speech,” Hall said. “There’s some things we want to control but do we really want to get that — to be controlling expression that much?

“The idea of having to register it and trying to monitor and control it. I just think it’s not the business that we should be.”

Hall said a group of WSU stakeholders is in the process of making revisions to the university free speech policy. 

“We’re looking at our free speech policy or freedom of expression policy, and then that’s bringing up a whole bunch of other policies that if you fix that one, you’ve got to fix them others. And now we’ll fix this one too,” she said. 

Hall said one particularly unpopular part of WSU’s free speech policy is being done away with.

“We’re actually getting rid of free speech zones,” she said. “The goal is that free speech will be freer by some of the things that we’re doing.”

Hall said the policies haven’t been reviewed for a while and now is the time to update them.

“In light of the upcoming political elections in November, I think it’s good that we have a good policy in place that might be able to handle and respond to some issues that come up,” Hall said. 

In December, The Sunflower reported that in its annual report, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) gave WSU a “red light” rating, indicating the university has “at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech.”

FIRE singled out a WSU policy that requires people to notify the university at least 72 hours before engaging in “First Amendment Activities,” which include “distribution of information leaflets” and “meetings to display group feelings or sentiments.”