Erased sidewalk pro-life messages spark tension between student political groups

Members of the Sioux Falls Life Runners and Augustana Republicans Wednesday night chalked pro-life messages on sidewalks around campus, including Bible verses and the phone number to a pregnancy help center.

Roughly an hour after the groups finished, however, individuals in protest washed the messages off the walkways with water and brooms, according to Director of Campus Safety Galen Smidt.

Blake Bendt, one of the Augustana Republicans who helped chalk the sidewalks, said he did not see the people erasing the messages but can guess who it was.

Hunter Lipinski, president of the Augustana Democrats, said he knows of five students who participated in erasing the messages and that “there may have been students a part of [Augustana Democrats] that took part. However, this had nothing to do with the organization.”

Lipinski said he could not answer whether he participated and was asked by the students involved to avoid disclosing their identities.

Smidt said Campus Safety received reports around 9 p.m. of people throwing water on sidewalks and steps in front of campus buildings, and officers responded because the water froze, creating patches of ice and slipping hazards near the entryways of the Madsen Center, the Humanities Building and the Mikkelsen Library.

Gary Henningsen, the sergeant on duty Wednesday night, said officers salted the ice patches after receiving the reports.

The Campus Safety log from the night reads that “reports of near falls and slips were numerous,” but Smidt said no one was hurt.

“Nobody fell, but it was becoming a risk hazard for people walking,” Smidt said.

Smidt said the department has investigated the event and has given its findings to Campus Life.

The remnants of one of the messages near Morrison Commons on Wednesday, Nov. 7. Photo by Jacob Knutson.

After the individuals erased the messages, someone wrote “SLIPPERY” in chalk near three ice patches in front of the Humanities Building, and by Thursday afternoon, someone rewrote pro-life messages near the Madsen Center.

Lipinski said while he believes in free speech, he thinks the chalk messages “crossed a line” because potential students on campus tours and students or faculty undergoing an abortion or who have had an abortion may have seen the messages.

“You never know what things people could be going through, especially with a hot-button topic like this,” Lipinski said. “It’s chalk, but it’s really a message sent across campus. It’s not the place for it, and having all of them removed—I mean, I don’t see it as being a terrible idea.”

Bendt said he understands how the messages could offend people but maintained that the groups have a right to free speech.

“I don’t consider them vulgar,” Bendt said. “I just see them as spreading facts and awareness.”

Lipinski said he was particularly upset with a message reading “abortion is murder.”

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A chalk message outside of the Madsen Center on Nov. 8. Photo by Shauna Pauli

“If that was one of the messages, I don’t see why that’s reason to destroy them all,” Bendt said.

Smidt said Campus Safety lacks a concrete policy on chalk messages and only asks that students do not write on buildings and avoid messages that contain swear words or obscene drawings. He said he believes the pro-life messages were controversial but not vulgar.

Lipinski said he thought Life Runners and Augustana Republicans could have presented the topic through a table in the Morrison Commons or posters around campus and not on the day after the 2018 midterm elections.

Bendt said that he assumes that the reactions would have been the same if the groups had hung posters or hosted a table and that it was a coincidence that Life Runners and Augustana Republicans chalked the campus a day after the elections.

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