With increasing popularity, anonymous social media platforms have enabled students to express their thoughts and opinions without fear of culpability. This trend introduces the dilemma of how an institution preserves its student’s freedom of speech while maintaining a professional reputation and a safe environment.
A mass email sent out by the Department of Safety earlier this month cautioned online conversations that use negative or threatening language relating to Messiah students. This came with a warning of the possibility of an investigation unveiling the anonymity of such accounts.
Topics of conversation on such sites range from radical political opinions to #wholesomewednesday submissions, which are intended to be humorous or uplifting.
However, Messiah’s Department of Safety is addressing these pages from a different perspective. Many of the accounts that publish submissions are open for public viewing. Anyone from prospective students to alumni can see what is posted.
“Parents are showing concern,” said Director Lynn Maynard. “It’s the sense of where someone is coming from. We’re taking words and pushing them out there with limited or no context.”
For the online community that posts comments and confessions related solely to Messiah’s lifestyle, context is often omitted.
The Department of Safety is not simply worried about the what the publications might do for the image of the school, but where the need to post derogatory or negative messages is arising from.
“It’s concerning when students do not feel comfortable to approach our department,” said Maynard. “What does our department need to do to be more open for people to report concerns to us?”
Currently, The Department of Safety is an umbrella over several resources that strive to maintain a safe living environment. Some services they provide include 24/7 patrol, crime prevention and security.
Additionally, there are links within the department webpage that enable members of Messiah to report crimes or sexual misconducts anonymously.
A spokesperson of a political social page, Johann George Elser, said the trouble is not so much Campus Safety as it is the administration of Messiah.
“The administration usually makes it a point not to consult with the student body about many decisions it makes,” Elser said. “Despite the student body being the affected party.”
Elser mentioned that such decisions include Messiah’s use of prison labor which first cultivated debates last semester. Other examples are the allocation of funds and policies relating to the LGBTQ+ community on campus.
“We want to have an open conversation,” said Maynard. “If there are concerns on campus that we can address, then please let us know.”
The Department of Safety’s primary focus is protecting members of Messiah and preventing a hostile environment. “Social media conversation, especially anonymous conversation, has the potential to quickly escalate,” Maynard said. “The College asks all members of the Messiah community to keep their communication—in all forms—reflective of our covenant to use “integrity, commitment and compassion in relationships with others.”