“Cyber-bullying” has been at the forefront of national news media coverage lately due to the recent suicide of Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi. Clementi was found dead in the Hudson River two weeks ago after videos of his sexual encounters were streamed online without his permission, essentially “outing” him as gay.

While here at UR, online bullying has not led to such tragic outcomes, Clementi’s story nevertheless hits uncomfortably close to home for many students and administrators. Like Rutgers, UR also contends with issues of intolerance, specifically in the context of anonymous gossip websites.

One of the sites in question is www.collegeacb.com — a site for college students that sprang up quickly after the dissolution of the previously popular boards on www.juicycampus.com. The site links to message boards for nearly every American university and its mission statement encourages students to “vent, rant and talk to college peers in an environment free from social constraints and about subjects that might otherwise be taboo.”

The UR boards on College ACB include derogatory comments about specific students, as well as explicitly racist, sexist or homophobic language. One recent thread included lengthy diatribes against black students — and other posts on the site include countless more usages of offensive words to describe various minority groups and women.

These types of posts have elicited strong reactions from administrators and students alike.

“I was appalled that people actually talk about people like that,” member of the Minority Student Advisory Board and junior Rainie Spiva said. “I want to say that it doesn’t represent our campus community, but I do feel that [students] can be racist and sexist sometimes.”

SA President and junior Scott Strenger was also dismayed at the vitriolic nature of the anonymous posts.

“What we may consider to be playful comments can be very hurtful,” he said. “The anonymity of these posts hinder the ability for real discussions and understanding to take place.”

However, some students, while not impressed with the tone of these comments, felt that they were basically harmless and did not represent a greater problem.

“I think it’s supposed to be funny,” senior Jane Taylor said. “It’s a forum where people feel safe because it’s anonymous, so they use it to say things they think are funny that are usually derogative. I think it’s entirely confined to this place.”

Last Wednesday, with the Rutgers suicide still fresh in the minds of U.S. college students, the administration began to take preventative action against the type of rhetoric displayed on College ACB. UR President Joel Seligman sent out a special notice to students addressing the issue and encouraging students to consider the consequences of anonymous gossip.

“Blogs, social networking messages, and gossip sites provide an opportunity for coarsening our experience,” he said in the e-mailed statement. “They can become vehicles for transmitting cruel messages that single out individuals and groups for disparagement, ridicule and wild accusations.”

Strenger and the SA also addressed the student body about the issue of bullying and gossip via an online campaign entitled “Tolerance Isn’t Enough,” which calls on students to take “the time to raise the issue of identity in daily conversations and work together to achieve greater understanding.”

Beyond simply encouraging students not to engage in intolerant behavior, however, it is unclear as to what action can be taken against gossip and bullying on campus. At a town hall meeting on tolerance that took place this past Friday, Seligman did not indicate that he would take any action toward making College ACB and similar sites inaccessible to students on UR wireless networks.

Strenger also felt that little could be done in the way of discipline to prevent use of these networks. “Students have the right to freedom of speech,” he said.

However, some students feel that the things that have been done — namely Seligman and Strenger’s statements and the town hall meeting — are simply not enough.

“Will there be an ongoing effort, or are we going to forget this after one town hall meeting?” Spiva asked.

Taylor agreed that certain posts on the site are worth looking into for disciplinary procedures. “If threatening or harassing statements are on there, then [students] should be held accountable,” she said. Still, she acknowledged, the obvious problem of anonymity still exists.

Spiva agreed, but was unsure about how much can really be done.

“People do have the right to free speech, and the fact that its anonymous means there’s not much we can do,” she said.

Healy is a member of the class of 2011.



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