By Charmaine Lim, SBM Editor-in-Chief & Maddie Conley, Web Content Manager
Currently, there have been discussions on campus about student behavior online. As students attending a private college, how much freedom do we have to say whatever we want?
At Messiah College, students are held to the Code of Conduct. Upon enrollment, each student is required to sign the Community Covenant to show their compliance with the Code of Conduct.
Kevin Villegas, Dean of Students, said, “In that, we use very broad language [in the Community Covenant] about what kind of community we aspire to be. We want that to translate into all of our interactions – in person, in classrooms, face-to-face or on social media.”
The Community Covenant states that “we commit ourselves to balancing personal freedom with concern for the moral standards of others.” This includes harassment and bullying.
First Amendment rights allow for freedom of speech in a broad sense. However, being a private institution, Messiah has the legal ability to make its own rules about what kind of speech is allowed.
When it comes to content that doesn’t align with Messiah’s ethics and values, students can file an incident report with the Department of Safety.
Matt Jenkins, SGA Vice President of Student Review, said, “From the incident report, the [college] will look into whether there are any violations of student conduct.”
During this process, the college is required to comply with FERPA. The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act prevents the general public from accessing your educational records, including disciplinary action. Why? To keep student information private.
FERPA also prevents Messiah from sending mass emails about current students, even if the student remains unnamed. Privacy laws require that the students’ identities be kept private even if allegations are made against them.
“Students perceive the lack of response as inaction,” Jenkins said. “When the reality is that a lack of response is legally required. At most the college can acknowledge that they are aware of the incident.”
Within the discussion on campus, expressions of concern and confusion over the process of Messiah’s disciplinary process have arisen.
“Sometimes action can be slow, but slow doesn’t mean bad,” Tetsuo Takahara, Student Body President, said. “Biblically, there are steps regarding reconciliation and justice. That’s not one quick fix.”
However, administration still encourages students to come to them with any concerns.
“I think it’s important for students to inquire appropriately and tactfully […] rather than make assumptions,” Villegas said.
Cindy Burger, director of the Department of Safety, said that “if students feel like they are a victim of a crime, and bullying is a crime, they should report the situation immediately to the Department of Safety.”
She added that in the case of an online situation, students should save a picture of the statement to show to safety officers, rather than reacting to the online situation.
“Responding back to the comments made just amplifies the situation, many times making it worse,” Burger said.
She encouraged, instead, contacting the Department of Safety to handle it.
The Department of Safety can be reached at ext. 6005 or 717-691-6005. For more information, refer to the campus-wide mass email from Kris Hansen-Kieffer.