Online photos’ real-world impact
Students tripped up by what Chico State finds on MySpace and Facebook
Sophomore Andy Archer said he initially hesitated to befriend his resident adviser while living at Craig Hall last year. While he is fully aware that the content on MySpace and other social networking sites is public, he is against disciplining students based on pictures of them drinking, using drugs or whatever else can be found on the Internet.
Yet that’s exactly what Chico State has been doing. As reported in the CN&R’s Back to School issue last year (” Caught up in covert ops"), RAs and campus officials keep an eye out for photos of partying underclassmen, and regardless of whether the student knew about the posting, sanctions—such as expulsion from university housing—can result.
“I’m not going to sit here and say underage drinking or drinking in the dorms is a good thing,” Archer said, “but I don’t think we need to have spies.”
In the past couple years, a number of students have been referred to Student Judicial Affairs after being spotted on social networking sites (specifically MySpace, Facebook and even YouTube) violating policies of Chico State and the code of conduct for on-campus residents.
Lizanne Leach, coordinator for residence-hall student conduct, says the staff does not seek out the pictures, videos, and messages documenting such violations. And although these occurrences constitute only a small percentage of violations in the halls, it is a danger that students need to be made aware of.
“What happens is that sometimes when a member of our staff is looking at someone they know’s page or profile, they will see pictures of residents committing policy violations, mostly drinking in the halls, and report them,” Leach said.
She added that in an attempt to educate students and prepare them for a successful college career, university housing resident advisers always inform students of the risks they take and the problems they face when posting to social networking sites during a meeting with their respective halls during the first week of school.
“Are students getting smarter about it? I would like to hope so,” said Linda Schurr, director of Student Judicial Affairs.
According to Schurr, the SJA does not consistently monitor sites like MySpace, but often takes similar steps when evidence of a violation is brought to the department’s attention.
Online social networks have been in the mainstream spotlight for a while now, she added, so it isn’t farfetched to assume that more people know the dangers associated with displaying their private life publicly over the Internet.
While living in University Village as a freshman last year, Ian Fennie saw a friend and fellow resident receive harsh punishment after making the mistake of posting pictures displaying underage drinking on campus property.
“Just about everyone drinks [at Chico State], on campus or off. Not because they are bad kids, but because it’s college life,” Fennie said. “But by posting pictures of you and your friends drinking online, you’re setting yourself up for punishment.”
Leach says she hopes students are becoming more aware of the consequences of their actions, too. “It is something students need to be aware of because it can affect the future, creating problems with jobs and future relationships, for example.”
Shurr agrees, pointing out that it can follow you around for years.
“It’s like anything else,” she said. “When there are consequences, students will learn from them.”
Maybe students are catching on. According to Fennie it is quite simply a measure of common sense: “If you are doing something you aren’t supposed to be doing, don’t put it on blast.”