Cleveland State University blasted by far right websites after 9/11 chalk art is washed away

CLEVELAND - Only News 5 is digging into a chalk art controversy in Cleveland that is getting national attention online.

A group of Cleveland State University students created a memorial for the victims of 9/11 on the sidewalks outside the student center.

On the morning of the somber anniversary, the university's maintenance crew removed the murals with a power washer.

Now CSU and the head of its maintenance department are getting blasted on social media. The comments and reaction have not been good.

But what is being lost in the online outrage is that this form of expression is actually not allowed on campus.

CSU sophomore Tiffany Roberts pointed out the streaks of color that remain on the sidewalk outside the CSU Student Center Wednesday.

"So right here, we had two twin towers and it said 'pause,'" said Roberts.

She was standing near her project on the morning of 9/11 when a crew showed up with a power washer.

"It was really disheartening to see all of our hard work kind of wash away like that," said Roberts.

Roberts, along with nearly a dozen of her classmates, are members of a conservative campus group.

"Our whole intention was to just honor those people," said Donato Nunez.

On Sunday night, they used chalk to pay their respects to the victims of 9/11.

"I looked through the handbook to make sure it was ok for me to chalk on campus," said Roberts.

Roberts told News 5 she didn't see anything about chalk.

"The only thing I found was that you are not allowed to attach anything to the sidewalks or the pavements," said Roberts.

Monday morning, the CSU Director of Facilities Management, who also happens to be Muslim, sent a crew out to wash the artwork away.

A handful of conservative websites, along with social media, quickly erupted with outrage, alleging that it may have been politically motivated. 

"Absolutely disgusted by this!" wrote one Facebook user. "People can desecrate the American flag, people can refuse to stand for the national anthem, they organize Rally's to keep others from using the freedom of speech, and all that's ok... Students work hard in drawing an American flag on Sept 11th, it gets washed away, on the order of an Islamic man, and that's ok! Exactly what's wrong with this country!"

Now some members of the conservative campus group acknowledge the rumors got out of hand by social media users who were unfamiliar with the facts.  

"It just looks so bad, and we didn't want that," said Nunez.

Cleveland State told News 5 this has nothing to do with religion and it does not allow students to use chalk to express themselves on campus. The crew was just doing its job and following protocol.

"People were trying to make us look bad, they were just going off facts they didn't know," said Nunez.

Roberts met with the VP of Student Affairs hours after the murals were washed away.

“At the end of the meeting we both agreed upon that the handbook needs to be changed, and that organizations need to be more aware that this is something that is not allowed on campus," said Roberts.

Cleveland State send the following statement to News 5:

In response to the recent reported incident, our campus maintenance crew was following their normal charge to remove symbols, signs and wording applied to surfaces throughout our 85-acre university campus.
 
In retrospect, had there been communication between all parties prior to the application of this signage we would have allowed this message to remain on campus for an appropriate period of time.
 
Going forward, we will review our expressive activity policy to ensure there is communication between all parties before removing signage.
 

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