Bullying and intimidation on anonymous social media platforms have been a pervasive problem on college campuses for some time. Each academic school year seems to bring a new app or website to prominence as the mechanism of choice for posting hostile messages.
Discussion of Online Bullying
Kenyon's Sean Decatur and Inside Higher Ed blogger Eric Stoller will discuss how colleges should respond to Yik Yak on "This Week," Inside Higher Ed's free weekly news podcast, on Friday. To be notified of new editions of "This Week," sign up here.
This year, Yik Yak is the app du jour; racist, sexist, and homophobic comments posted on Yik Yak have led to student protests on some campuses, and attempts by administrators to block access to the site on others. But Yik Yak is not the problem; in fact, I am confident that the hype over this particular app will soon die down, and it will be replaced by some new, more exciting tool. The problem lies in a culture that accepts – indeed embraces – the act of broadcasting, behind a protective mask of anonymity, statements that most would find offensive.
Kenyon College, where I serve as president, has not been immune to this. Anonymous postings to social media have spurred vigorous debate on campus in prior years. This year, however, the posting of statements that attempted to find humor in sexual assault as the campus prepared for Take Back the Night Week provoked a particularly strong response. Part of the conversation on campus has focused on the specific content: the fact that rape and sexual violence are never laughing matters and the reality that these types of anonymous postings have a threatening and chilling impact on the campus community.
More broadly, this discussion has stirred renewed dialogue on the very nature of anonymous postings and disrespectful, uncivil dialogue on campus. Academic institutions must create spaces for dialogue and conflicting views – this is the very heart of the concept of academic freedom. At Kenyon we value (and indeed celebrate) both the right to express dissenting views and the responsibility to respectfully listen to those opinions. We may disagree and challenge with rigor, but always with respect.
But our embrace of academic freedom as a principle means that we must reject bullying and intimidation that squelch debate and dissent and inhibit learning. Personal attacks and provocative statements made behind the shield of anonymity are not protected by academic freedom; rather, these actions restrict and stifle it. Difference, dissent, and debate must occur in an open, respectful environment, and the type of targeting and bullying of individuals or groups that occurs in anonymous social media harms this environment.
In an effort to promote an open, respectful environment that enables difference, dissent, and debate, a group of students have started a project on Facebook (#Respectful Difference). The project uses social media to positively assert the values of civility and respect and the importance of dialogue to bridge different views. The concept is simple: Members of the Kenyon community (as individuals or groups) are photographed with simple statements about why they value respectful difference, post them to social media, and challenge peers and friends to do the same. By reclaiming social media as a space for civil discussion, and by rejecting anonymity, this project has been a way for Kenyon students, faculty, staff, and alumni to assert the central values of academic freedom.
Will this simple project change the culture that fuels anonymous online bullying? We’d be naïve to believe that this is sufficient to solve the problem. Hateful speech arises from systemic inequality, which must be addressed in order to achieve cultural change. The campaign has drawn some fair criticism on campus that a call for open dialogue is not enough, that root causes must be challenged as well. But this student-inspired campaign starts the process for an open dialogue that is a prerequisite for change and it sends a powerful message about the values of our community.
Submitted by Paul Fain on October 1, 2014 - 3:00am
Excelencia in Education, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group that focuses on Latino student success, announced this week that it had received $2.4 million in new grants from four foundations. A spokesman for the group said three-quarters of the money is aimed at growing its capacity, as opposed to funding specific projects. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation contributed $1 million, which is the largest of the four grants.
Holistic admissions policies -- in which colleges consider a candidate as an individual, and base decisions on more than a formula of grades and test scores -- have long been common among undergraduate institutions, but have also gained ground in health professions admissions, according to a report released today. The report found that more than 90 percent of medical schools and nearly half of nursing bachelor's programs are using holistic admissions. Because holistic admissions can consider such factors as a candidate's background and disadvantaged status, these policies have generally been associated with increased diversity, and the new report finds that to be the case in health fields. Among institutions with many attributes of holistic admissions, more than 80 percent report that moving in that direction led to increased diversity in the student.
At the same time, the report did not find evidence that holistic admissions -- as its critics sometimes suggest -- has led to a decline in academic admissions standards. Over the last decade, as many of these institutions expanded holistic reviews, 90 percent of the health professions programs using holistic review reported that the average grade-point average of the incoming class remained unchanged or increased, while 10 percent reported a decrease. And 89 percent reported that average standardized test scores for incoming classes remained unchanged or increased, while 11 percent reported a decrease
The report was done by the Urban Universities for HEALTH – a collaboration between the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities and the Association of American Medical Colleges, with funding from the National Institutes of Health and the Health Resources and Services Administration.
While women's colleges and universities are declining in number in the U.S. and Europe, they play a growing role in providing access and developing female leaders around the world, writes Kristen Renn.
Gordon College has a year to prove to a regional accrediting agency that its policies on gay people meet the accreditor's standards for non-discrimination, Boston Business Journalreported. Gordon's policies barring sex outside of heterosexual marriage have generated significant controversy in recent months, and the policies have drawn the attention of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges' Commission on Institutions of Higher Education, which considered the college at its meeting this month.
A joint statement by the accreditor and the college said that the commission found information presented by Gordon about its policy on "homosexual practice" to be "thorough and pertinent," and that the commission applauded Gordon's plan to engage in up to 18 months of study. The statement said Gordon would report back by next September to ensure that its "policies and processes are non-discriminatory and that it ensures its ability to foster an atmosphere that respects and supports people of diverse characteristics and backgrounds, consistent with the Commission’s Standards for Accreditation." (Note: This item has been updated from an earlier version to correct the focus of the accreditor's scrutiny.)
Only a handful of colleges and universities have optional questions on their undergraduate applications in which applicants may share their sexual orientation or gender identity. On Thursday, the Graduate School at Northwestern University (which does not ask the question of undergraduates) announced that it will add a question on whether applicants "consider themselves part of the LGBTQ community." Dwight McBride, dean of the Graduate School, said: “It's important for us but also for others to move in this direction, as well. If we don't ask the question, we are not building a data archive and, therefore, have no way of knowing what the needs of our populations and sub-populations in our communities are -- beyond guessing and anecdote.”
Despite the increased public discussion of sexual assault, some fraternities continue activities that raise questions about their understanding of the issue. Phi Delta Theta has suspended its chapter at Texas Tech University after a series of photographs surfaced, The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reported. One photo showed a banner for a party reading: “No Means Yes, Yes Means Anal.” Another showed a sprinkler attached to a cutout that appeared to be the spread legs of a woman.