The Internet soapbox is not a venue for reform
While there are situations in which social media can spark a revolution, Washington University should not be relying on Facebook confessions for reform. The incident in Bear’s Den last February, the recent controversy over mental health issues on campus and the aWILDnight website all went viral on social media before garnering responses from the administration, and that list still does not include the photo and accompanying caption posted by senior Mahroh Jahangiri last Wednesday. Students should never feel that they have to turn to Facebook instead of expressing themselves through University-provided channels, and while the Mosaic Project and Bias Response System are steps in the right direction, recent events continue to show that the University is behind where it needs to be.
Even when students did make initial attempts to notify the administration, no response was given. Following the incident on Halloween, an offended student contacted Dean Sharon Stahl, but nothing happened. While it should be noted that University administrators were preoccupied at the time with the death of senior Yongsang Soh, that should not be an excuse.
Though Stahl gave a heartfelt apology for failing to address the issue when it was brought to her attention, inaction itself is not the main problem. The greater issue is that the administration still does not have a designated employee who students can contact in these situations. Stahl and other University administrators have many other responsibilities; students’ complaints, while important, are not a day-to-day priority. Wash. U. needs someone whose primary responsibility is reading these complaints and bringing them to the administration’s attention. Many students feel that, due to the way the University has handled—or failed to handle—these complaints in the past, the only way to be heard is to create loud and fiery discourse on social media. As popular as the Internet soapbox is, a meaningful mechanism for reporting and addressing bias would be a more reasonable alternative.
Discussions online, though initially productive, have become full of vitriol and personal attacks on the students who express personal offense. Comments on Student Life’s website, though many are written by readers outside the immediate Wash. U. community, have taken a turn for the offensive. The degree of anonymity offered by the Internet tends to protect the attacker more than the victims, and the cruel nature of many comments hampers productive discussion.
While a Bias Response System is under development, it is already long overdue. Wash. U. lags behind most universities, and the Halloween controversy has again exposed the University’s lack of an effective response system. The administration should be working harder to get this Bias Response System up and running. More than eight months after the incident that precipitated the Mosaic Project, there should be something firmer in place. While Wash. U. remains without, the University needs to facilitate more positive discussion. It cannot continue simply placating those who demand actual change if we want to show we have learned from our past mistakes.