This week saw the continuation of troublesome student governance issues. As the CAMPUS and MiddBlog have reported, a new Web site, called Middlebury Confessional, has captured the attention of Middlebury students. An independently run forum, with no formal ties to the College, the site encourages students to post their inner-most thoughts—anonymously.
If the number of posts is any indication, this site has been irresistible for many students. And some of the discussion, as Jason Mittell suggests on his blog, is—or could be—valuable. My concern here is that the site has also become a place for individuals to post derogatory comments about other people and groups of people. This week, my colleagues and I received a number of emails and phone calls, from all sectors of the community, urging the College to “do something” to stop the irresponsible posting.
We are limited in our ability to impact this site since it has no official ties to the College, but students can work to improve the tone on this forum. To that end, I sent the email included below to all students.
I am aware of the potential irony here, and the larger question my email (sent by a dean) raises. How do we develop a framework for students to hold one another accountable for their conduct? This is the goal of self-governance, so evident in the honor code that we have in the academic context. But the administration also has an important role in this discussion: to uphold the values of the community and to stress that the College in no way condones the demeaning commentary that appears on this forum.
Of course, we are all free to exercise our speech rights, but in an educational community such as ours, we are also obliged to exercise these rights responsibly.
When it comes to Middlebury Confessional, we can, and should, do better. The question is how.
I am writing to express my concerns about the newly launched Web site, Middlebury Confessional, and to tell you what many of you already know—that the derogatory, highly personal comments that have appeared on this forum are at odds with the values of Middlebury College.
For those of you unfamiliar with Middlebury Confessional, it is an independent Web site with no official connection whatsoever to the College. Still, it invites members of our community to share observations and thoughts that they would ordinarily keep to themselves. Although much of the commentary on this forum seems to have been written with good intentions, many posts, written under the guise of anonymity, target specific individuals and groups. These “confessions” are presumably aimed at revealing truths that could bring students together, but in this context they actually have the opposite effect.
Educational communities like ours are built on trust and mutual respect. Thus, I urge all Middlebury students to exercise good judgement and refrain from personal attacks when posting on this forum.
Finally, with regard to the free speech rights implicit in this matter, I should note that the College has no interest in censoring student speech. However, the College does have an interest in fostering an atmosphere in which all members of the community feel free to participate in the open exchange of ideas so vital to an academic community. If you have any questions about policies governing “verbal conduct” at the College, please consult the Handbook, especially the passage included below.