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This is a follow up to my May 4 post, addressing the problems that students have had with Middlebury Confessional, the anonymous online forum.

In my May 3 letter to students, I tried my hand at moral suasion, asking posters to Middlebury Confessional to treat one another with some civility. However, at the end of that note, I suggested that the Handbook does give concerned students some options for redress. Here they are:

1. File a complaint based on the College’s harassment policies. Middlebury College prohibits “any form of coercion or harassment that insults the dignity of others and interferes with their freedom to learn or work.” The Handbook provides a comprehensive definition of harassment as well as instructions for filing a complaint. Potential complainants should consult the Handbook and speak with one of the College’s human relations advisors if they believe they have been subject to harassment.

2. File a complaint with Library and Information Service based on the College policies regarding the “responsible use” of computing and network services. The Handbook notes that “the same standards of civilized discourse and etiquette that govern our face-to-face interactions should apply in cyberspace. All users of our computing and networking facilities bear the responsibility to avoid libel, obscenity, undocumented allegations, attacks on personal integrity, and harassment.” Anyone who feels that these standards have been violated may file a complaint with LIS, and LIS will “investigate and act, including cooperating with legal authorities, if necessary.” Contact person: Carrie Rampp, Area Director of Resource Development & Services, LIS. Ext 2451; rampp@middlebury.ed

3. Register a complaint with Community Council. Community Council “considers policies and issues in all areas pertaining to the nonacademic life” and recommends actions to the president and administration “in which the council has an interest.” Any member of the Middlebury community may bring a concern or recommendation to Community Council for its consideration.

These options will also be posted on the Dean of the College web page.

7 Responses to “More on Middlebury Confessional”

  1. Anonymous says:

    It’s nice to know the options but they seem rather useless…how can you file any kind of complaint if you don’t know who is responsible for the harassment?

  2. Sarah F. says:

    The technology exists for this information to be found out, but law enforcement would probably need to get involved first. As the TOS of MiddConfess states, “We guarantee complete privacy and anonimity [sic] if the post does not contain any information that can be deemed as private or illegal to either yourself or someone else. This includes, but is not limited to: slander, personal attacks and threats.”

    As far as I can tell, MiddConfess does log IP addresses: that’s how Ryan Kellett found out all those fun facts about who’s accessing the site. (http://midd-blog.com/2008/04/28/middlebury-confessional-stats/) Thus, MiddConfess is not as private and anonymous as some might like it to be.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Just start posting things from public computers, guys. There’s always a way to beat the system, I’ve been doing it for years.

  4. Hey Dean Spears,

    I have created a blog in order to initiate a broader discourse on M.C. Any new insights that you might have would be a valuable addition to the blog. sites.middlebury.edu/metaconfessional

    e

  5. Emily says:

    I’m concerned about a recent post on the Confessional. It included a link to a video which target a specific individual, and yet it does not fall into the categories implicated by the handbook’s definitions of “harassment”. What recourse might the individual take?

  6. Tim Spears says:

    Emily,

    I would suggest this individual seek advice from a dean. For instance, Gus Jordan, Associate Dean of the College (and the administrator in charge of the judicical process) could help interpret Handbook language and suggest next steps.

  7. Terry Simpkins says:

    Dear Dean Spears,
    I’m a librarian here at Midd, and I’ve been following this thread with interest, as it raises some interesting intellectual, ethical and even generational questions about privacy, expertise, intellectual freedom, and control. The boon and bane of the internet has always been it’s openness. The very quality which allows anyone to publish a website also makes it easy for spammers to wreak havoc. The quality that allows anyone, not just experts, to review something — whether a product, a service, or a person’s personality — has called into question the whole notion of trustworthiness and expertise. Is my movie review as worthy as Pauline Kael’s? Does Nat Hentoff have anything more worthwhile to say about a jazz recording than the anonymous Amazon.com reviewer?

    Generally, the internet has resolved this issue (not purposefully, just naturally) by moving away from the “single authority” approach (i.e. Kael or Hentoff) toward a “wisdom of the masses” approach (583 5-star ratings on Amazon vs. 14 1-stars). Libraries too are grappling with this (one example: controlled vocabulary subject headings? Or uncontrolled folksonomies?) Personally, I trust Pauline Kael and Nat Hentoff. But I also trust 583 5-star reviews. The difficulty I have with your approach to Middlebury Confessional is that by being so concerned with what one (or even a few) anonymous and probably disgruntled individuals have to say, you implicitly attribute to them some sort of actual “authority” or “expertise.”

    I sympathize with, and understand completely, the fact that even one disgruntled nasty comment can hurt. But the solution is not to try to legislate or repress away speech, but to understand the underlying meaninglessness of isolated, unhappy, anonymous comments. If someone writes on MC: “That librarian in the music library with the pony-tail is a complete idiot. Plus, he’s ugly and smells bad,” I might feel a momentary twinge of “Hey! Ouch!” But I’m also going to take it with a grain of salt, especially if I can’t remember any interaction with someone that might warrant such a remark.

    However, if 50 posters, anonymous or not, start chiming in with “Yeah, I agree. Ugly, dumb and stinky,” it may be an indication that I really am lacking something in my interactions, and, probably, I should also review my hygiene habits. It may be harsh, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true.

    People, all of us, need to begin adjusting their attitudes to the internet. I’m not saying that rudeness will become the norm or that libel should be tolerated, but simply that, if someone spends more than 2 minutes cruising around the internet looking for something to be offended by, he or she will probably find it. If MiddConfess bugs you, or if there’s a nasty post about you, don’t go to the site and read it. But if there are 50 nasty posts, maybe one needs to take a hard look at how one is teaching, or being a librarian, or interacting with one’s fellow students.

    Finally (and I apologize for the length of this post), in response to a comment to your May 4th post, you wrote: “As one student put it, our community would not tolerate nasty, anonymous comments written on students’ whiteboards or on the walls of residence halls. Why is this different?” There’s really a pretty simple answer to this: because Middlebury doesn’t own MiddConfess. If you walk into someone’s house and you see a picture of yourself with devil’s horns drawn on it hanging on their fridge, do you have the right to rip it down? Quite simply, if you can’t control something (and control is most commonly exerted through ownership), you’d better be prepared to tolerate it.

    Anyway, my .02 on the matter. And, feel free to call me a smelly idiot on MC. :) I’ll probably never see the post anyway.

    Cheers,
    Terry

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