Freshman Class Facebook Page Shut Down
by Nathan Castle | published Mar. 13th, 2014
On February 17, RIT Admissions announced that it was closing the Facebook group for RIT’s 2013 freshman class. Citing harassment concerns, a student employee of Undergraduate Admissions removed the regular student administrators and announced plans to delete the page within days. Student reactions were mixed, with some students decrying the move and others supporting it. Others wondered what the move meant for other online student-led Facebook groups.
The Facebook group was officially started by Undergraduate Admissions to provide a common area for finding roommates and getting help with the transition to college life. The freshman community on the page was active enough that it was decided to transfer control to student administrators in the fall.
According to Tejas Vin, a user of the Facebook page and a first year Electrical Engineering student, the class page was a hub for the community. “It keeps me updated about events going on, and it gets people excited about them,” Vin said. Unfortunately, incidents of harassment kept cropping up, and appeared to some to be getting worse.
Chris Myles, a first year Networking and Systems Administration major and one of three admins for the page, stated that there were a lot of harassment issues. “As time went on, things got worse and worse, so I decided to leave,” he explained. After Myles left, the harassment continued. “There was a hate thread when I left, bashing on me. I had a friend screenshot it; they sent them to me and I forwarded them to Undergraduate Admissions.” Within a few days, Admissions had taken down the page.
RIT has several policies regarding online misconduct. For employees, including student employees, policy C6 defines and prohibits discrimination or harassment — but only while the individuals are acting as employees. C6 also defines the procedure for dealing with incidents caused by RIT employees. Policy D18, on the other hand, applies to students even when they are not working. Every student agrees to comply with D18 when they join the RIT community. This policy defines all forms of misconduct and the student conduct process if a student is to get in trouble. Harassment issues specifically relating to sex must be investigated in order to comply with Title IX, the U.S. law protecting against discrimination or harassment based on sex or gender in education. Other issues of harassment are handled by the general student misconduct process.
While RIT policy doesn’t have a specific procedure for handling out-of-control Facebook groups, Admissions and some students recognized that harassment was an issue. According to RIT’s General Counsel Bobby Colón, Admissions needed to act to protect itself. “Organizations are concerned that if they are seen to be sponsoring a particular website, that someone may think … the speech that’s on that website belongs to that [organization],” he said. In this case, Admissions shut down the page to distance itself from those incidents of harassment.
As long as the page is not managed, sponsored or provided by RIT, the Institute has no grounds for taking it down. In the case of the RIT Class of 2017-2018 page, Admissions was only able to shut down the page because their student employees maintained administrator accounts there. RIT’s policies for students and workers can be found in the RIT Student Conduct Handbook.