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Edgewood Students Risk Expulsion for Private Social Media Postings


BY ON THE EDGE STAFF | PHOTO BY ALEX THOMAS

Edgewood College students can be expelled for their private social media postings, Edgewood College Dean of Students Tony Chambers has confirmed.

The issue arises because Edgewood College administrators are investigating a racially charged social media post by an Edgewood College student on a spring break trip out of state. The social media post contained a photo caption with an “inappropriate, derogatory, racial slur,” according to Chambers.

Chambers sent out a school-wide email March 27 announcing the start of the investigation, yet he refused to say who was conducting the investigation, how long it would take, and what the process was.

Chambers said options for punishment range from probation to sanction, expulsion, and suspension “if they violate the conduct code, and it’s a severe enough violation.”

The investigation may affect freedom of speech for Edgewood students writing on private social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter.

But the process for investigating such a complaint is not transparent. In an interview with On The Edge staff March 28, Chambers said he didn’t know:

  • What the investigation process is.
  • Who chairs the review team or who the members of the review team are. “That is a good question,” he said. “I actually don’t know. I think they’re a self-organizing operation. Everybody chairs it.”
  • Whether a hate crime charge can be filed. “We don’t know until we get the investigation going.”

 

Chambers said in an interview with On The Edge staff that students have the right to post what they’d like on their social media but not during college-sponsored events. “. . . Free speech does not mean you can say anything anywhere,” said Chambers.

The Edgewood College Student Rights and Responsibilities Handbook lists some but not all types of misconduct, and disciplinary actions can result from violations to the Edgewood policy. In the Code of Conduct, a bias incident is defined as “a verbal, written, or physical act of intolerance or prejudice that does not involve violence or other conduct violating college policy, but which threatens, intimidates, or marginalizes individuals or groups because of their actual or perceived race, color, religion, sexual orientation, ability status, ethnicity/national origin, physical characteristics, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, and/or any other legally protected classification and lacks a reasonable relationship to an educational, political, and/or artistic end.”

The handbook says a response to a bias incident could be an educational opportunity for the campus community and those involved. The policy says it strives to heighten understanding.

There are differences among social media. For example, Twitter could be considered “the cocktail party” for all online content. News is constantly being written, and information is instantly updated. When the world is in crisis or there is breaking news, people may use Twitter for live news updates.

Snapchat is a service where the users care about their personal privacy. The app allows the user to send self-destructing shared images and allows for rapid communication. The pictures or messages sent generally do not go on any other social media platform or permanent record. This allows its users to present short-term pieces of carefully curated content.

Chambers announced the investigation in an email with little detail. He declined to add many details when questioned. “Other than what I sent out in the note, there is very little else I can actually give in terms of specifics,” said Chambers. “An event happened that appears to have violated our conduct code, and we’re looking into it.”

On November 11, 2016, Chambers sent out a similar e-mail condemning hate speech on campus. The email referred to a post-it note which had been posted on the inside window of the Office of Student Diversity and Inclusion on campus. The incident gained national media attention.

Chambers wrote then: “These types of acts will not be tolerated at Edgewood College.  They are inexcusable, and those who have been identified as perpetrators of such acts have no place in our community. Any attempt to discriminate, instill fear in or intimidate our students, faculty or staff will result in serious and swift consequences both from the Madison Police and Edgewood College.”

The handbook states that only incidents that violate other college policies will result in discipline. The Non-Discrimination and Harassment Policy provides several examples of harassment that will not be tolerated but are not limited to degrading, offensive remarks, slurs, and jokes.

The handbook states that “faculty, staff and/or students who violate this policy may be subject to discipline up to and including dismissal/termination.”

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