The “Sacredness” of Social Media

Faculty members should be allowed to keep their own social media space off-limits to students, argues Stephanie Buckhanon Crowder.

April 1, 2016

#boundaries #academy #balance #socialmedia #nope #sacredspace #theology

No, this is not another article on why you should or should not engage with social media. I will not waste cyberink on how much time you should allot to Twitter. The degree of frittering on Facebook is up to you. That is not my purpose here -- not today. I am a proponent for exploring the vast tools of technology.

Interactions on the Internet are crucial in academe whether one studies history, sociology, geometry or, yes, even theology. From professors posting podcasts to the live-streaming and Periscope activities of pastors and church leaders, the use of the web is ubiquitous to say the least. It is worth emphasizing that access to the world online is beyond a luxury. It is a social, professional, political and theological necessity.

However, we must have boundaries. Too much of a good thing is abusive and irresponsible. I am especially concerned that, in the academy, professors allow themselves to say yes to students who want to invade their social media environment. It is OK to say no!

Within the hallowed halls of academe, we spend many days and some nights responding to student emails, answering the same questions, reviewing paper outlines, drafts and final papers, and serving as disciplinarian and counselor -- ad nauseam. Thus, we must establish a perimeter somewhere. Well, it stops here. Know that your social media space is off-limits; students cannot cross this line.

We should not feel obligated to reply to class-related work on Facebook. No, it is not a pedagogical sin to ignore a “Can you explain the directions again?” request on Twitter. A student’s direct messaging is not a substitute for direct use of institutional email. A class-related shout-out on Instagram does not give students instant access to you or me. Our social media presence is precious, priceless and off-limits. It is sacred -- holy social ground.

My posting and trolling on social media -- well, it’s for me. As a professional, I want to be in conversation with others in the guild with whom distance, time and just plain inconvenience preclude our dialogue. A retweet here, a like there, and a message or two allows me to be in touch with colleagues and potential collaborators. This is the space where I can expand my academic, social and cultural horizons. I discover the latest article, the newest book or most recent political movement. This is not where I want to expend more energy fielding student inquiries about the syllabus or an assignment.

Establishing such lines of professor-student demarcation is not about weariness from responding to student queries. This is par for the course. Pedagogy is an exercise of questions and answers, thinking and responding. But it must also be a discourse of silence, reflection and meditation. Vocation calls for places of professional growth and development. The idea is for professors to have an arena just to be. The busyness of social media can perchance serve in this vein. There is much to be gleaned from the constant, ready access to information, ideas and movements. Everything, however, must be done in moderation. This, too, calls for academic balance and scholarly equilibrium.

The “me” on social media is professional, yes, but is not solely that of professor. There are many facets to my social location and identity. Because who we are “out there” can be personal, it is OK if students are not Facebook friends -- although some would tend to disagree. I have colleagues who gladly converse with current students in cyberspace, while others prefer not to have such connections until after students have graduated.

If a request to befriend or an automatic follow comes from someone in a present class, it is professionally and personally within your right to ignore or block such requested connections. If asked in person about the decline, I gently let students know the rationale: social media space is all about me. There, I said it again. Our work requires the time for self-conscious advocacy, adventures and professional advancement proffered through the Internet maze. This is just another teachable moment.

Truth is, students could post items that I really should not see. I choose not to be put in such a precarious position. Let them have their Internet freedom. Note, we all need to proceed with caution. One never knows who is lurking or trolling. The Internet is always watching. Yes, we must be careful, but we do not have to be cowardly.

When it comes to alumni, former students, staff members or other people connected to an institution, there are perhaps a different set of criteria. Relationships change as people matriculate through shared organizations. In this light, some professionals establish various Internet accounts to reflect their respective social, political and career loci.

I think it is relative. You know you. You know what degree of any type of engagement inside and outside of the academy is personally apropos. No, I am not trying to hide anything. Probity says I am who I am in the classroom and in my dining room. This is comparable to not answering work-related emails on the weekend -- same, same. A healthy dose of work-family, professor-student balance is beneficial for everyone.

It is just a matter of boundaries for me. I hear the stentorian retort: What parameters could there possibly be when Googling reveals information about ourselves even we had forgotten? The Internet is unforgiving. The World Wide Web has a long memory. It never forgets. Once it’s out there, it’s out there. Anyone, anywhere, at any time can find our pictures, posts and papers without our consent or knowledge. Nonetheless, I would like to believe in a modicum of control over who or what enters and feeds on my cyberself. I study theology. Belief is important to me.

So go ahead. Draw a line in the social media sand. Stand up for your cyber yes. Stand in your Internet no. Erect that “No Students Allowed” fence. Save your social media persona for the work your soul requires. This is holy ground. For the sake of self and society -- this is sacred.


Stephanie Buckhanon Crowder (@stepbcrowder) is an author, minister, and Bible and pop culture educator. She serves as assistant professor of theological field education and New Testament and as director of the ACTS doctor of ministry in preaching program at Chicago Theological Seminary.

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