What Happens Online Doesn’t Stay Online

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This past year has seen an unprecedented number of cases of online harassment, cyberbullying, and intentional acts of hate in the Stuyvesant community. A group of freshman boys was found to have been ranking and commenting on their their female classmates’ appearances in a derogatory fashion. Screenshots of the messages, which were exchanged in a private group chat, were posted in the freshman Facebook group. The boys in question offered apologies only once they found the majority of the freshman class objected to their actions. Yet the issue did not and does not end there.

The effects of such a toxic conversation aren’t ended with a half-hearted apology. One of the girls they targeted cut class in order to avoid seeing them. The term “respecting women” has become the mocking mantra of a select group of students who believe what the boys did was an extension of their right to free speech. Arguments over Facebook have seeped into the daily lives of Stuyvesant students, adding a degree of undeniable severity. When incidents like this occur, students and the administration must take on certain responsibilities in order to address these issues effectively.

Responsibilities of Students

In the freshman Facebook group, being able to chime in on an issue online led to a massive influx of posts and hundreds of comments written by freshmen, chastising their peers. The comments began as condemnations of objectifying women and ended with personal attacks against the students in question. It got to the point where Student Union President Tahseen Chowdhury felt the need to block any new posts, writing, “All posts are moderated until the group is cleaned up and everyone learns their limits.”

There is a clear line between informing someone of inappropriate behavior online and constructively criticizing his or her actions. Students online must understand that name-calling and threatening someone for his or her beliefs is indistinguishable from harassment and cyberbullying. Once the provoking issue has been identified and the person approached and talked to maturely, students must learn to take a step back.

Students must also realize that everything they post online is their direct responsibility. Whether a message is posted in a public Facebook group or messaged in a private group chat, students run and must accept the risk of it being viewed by anyone. When other students have the opportunity to screenshot offensive or harmful posts, privacy and immunity from repercussions are not guaranteed, especially when these posts directly affect Stuyvesant students. In addition, witnessing cyberbullying warrants reporting it.

When incidents such as these occur, the first group to approach handling it should be the student body. This means expanding the role of Big Sibs and other upperclassmen to serve as unofficial mediators. Underclassmen who feel more comfortable talking to their fellow students instead of immediately going to their guidance counselors should be able to trust the upperclassmen, who in turn must be mature and responsible in handling it to their best of their abilities. When they feel the issue is a delicate one that requires adult intervention, Big Sibs must take the initiative to bring it up to the administration.

Responsibilities of the Administration

When a student has been targeted, the administration has the responsibility to offer the victim ways to cope with and resolve the event. The victim should be called to his or her guidance counselor’s office immediately after the administration hears of the incident. A guidance counselor should offer emotional support and ask to provide any services to the student, such as an appointment with the SPARK office. If the student would not like to discuss the event with an adult, the guidance counselor should not interrogate the student or force him or her to discuss the event. In this case, the guidance counselor can gently recommend the student talks to a Big Sib.

Further, the student who has been targeted should have a say in how the conflict between the harasser and the victim should be resolved. If the victim asks for it, he or she should have a chance to talk with the harasser and explain why these actions were hurtful. A guidance counselor should be present to mediate the conversation and make sure the situation does not escalate, but the counselor should not attempt to control the dialogue. Both students should be able to explain their sides of the conflict in a constructive way. The mediation session should end when the victim decides it should, and if the victim would like more than one session, their request should be granted.

We understand that students may not be able to appropriately rationalize their experiences with bullying and ask for help when they need it. However, guidance counselors must make sure that when a student does ask for their help, the situation is not taken out of that student’s hands. If a student only wants to talk about a traumatic event but would rather not attend a mediation session, guidance should not force him or her to discuss the event with the harasser.