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Sunday, January 21, 2018

Shame on the online shamers

Guest Opinion By Vince Nix

There are quite a few “keyboard warriors” in this community. Normally I stay away from their bickering and complaining, because they are talking about something that they know nothing of: running a comprehensive community college. My stance is that entering into the fray with those folks on Facebook only legitimizes them — and they are not legitimate. As long as they lambaste only me, I know that I operate with integrity, it doesn’t matter. However, recently there was a post that berated one of our DCC students. That’s not okay!

I was debating how to respond, because I wanted to say something publicly after local people raised issues regarding behavior of a DCC student at a recent DCC basketball game. I haven’t been contacted, but our VP of Student Affairs was contacted by a couple of community members. The Facebook posts in a local discussion group got fairly heated; it reminded me that adults shape the behavior of people who aren’t yet adults.  

This morning I was doing some reading, and I ran across an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education Here is a quote:

“The fact is, the social-media arena, where 89 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds spend so much of their time, is often the antithesis of a “safe space.” Just read some of Donald J. Trump’s tweets or log onto Yik Yak. Social-media culture rewards snark. It encourages public shaming and online mobs. It can be an algorithmic echo chamber. It flows with people’s microaggressions, and their straight-up aggression.

“Against that backdrop, it’s no surprise that there are American college students who don’t know what civility in public discourse looks like. They’ve been raised in a polarized political and media climate, and reared on the anonymity and lack of accountability of unlimited Internet speech.”

Okay, it is my turn. My skin is thick. Say what you will about me. But when you start attacking our students, you’ve crossed the line.  

Our students look to us (all of us as adults, not just college administrators, not just college staff, not just college faculty) for guidance whether they ask for advice verbally or not. The original post (referred to above) was civil enough. The poster wrote: “Watched the 6:00 DCC game and now starting the 8:00 game. Worse sportsmanship comes from one DCC male student who has continued to yell derogatory and insulting comments from across the gym at the out-of-town players all night and now heckling the men’s team to instigate a confrontation. At what point does a ref need to step in and kick him out. He is an insult to the community and college.”

On second thought, that doesn’t fit my definition of “civil.” Perhaps the student insulted the poster’s sensitivities, but he wasn’t insulting the community, nor the college. The referees do step in when they think something has passed the limit; they called a technical on this young man in a game last fall semester — he’s toned it down since.  The referees called a technical on our coach the same night — so they were paying attention to everyone including the young man.

The replies to the post were blatantly obnoxious. The speech/language of most people that replied was quite vulgar. The categorization of one of our students was appalling. I kept the screenshots and we will discuss the original post/replies in a Social Problems course that I teach (and in which the young man is enrolled). We will talk about DCC community standards, and have his peers talk about his behavior, with civil discourse.

There won’t be any shaming, and I assure you, nobody will “kick his a$%” as some of those replying to the original post think should be the only consequence. No less than three people said the student should face that as a consequence.

His behavior is and was “edgy,” but he did not cross the line that night. I was sitting two rows behind him, I was nearly as vocal. In the past he has perhaps gone further, and I’ve had conversations with him. 

He did not use profanity, he does not call players’ names, but he DOES get in the heads of the opposing players, benches, coaches, and fanatics of the opposing team. That’s what a fan is, right? A fanatic. More than a few times he turned around and implored the public attendees to join in and cheer. Most games he is the only DCC fan we can hear. It gets embarrassing when the opponents’ bench-players are louder than our home-town fans. 

There was a specific turning point, just when the first overtime began, that his antics helped an opposing point-guard lose control. I knew at that moment we would win the game.

There is a reason the referees didn’t “step in” and a reason that I didn’t too. This is the NJCAA; this is collegiate-level competition. The rules are different from fourth grade, junior-high, and high-school competition. We want fanatics to support our team’s play on the court. We want our players to be integral leaders in our community. We also want our non-athletes to be leaders; when they make mistakes, we address those through a code of student conduct that is neither public, nor shameful, but IS educational, with learning outcomes.

I’m available to discuss any of this in person, but it is doubtful that your public shaming and finger-pointing will change my mind or any other people’s minds. 

My favorite comment was this:  “im (sic) wondering if any of the people around him said anything to him? if enough people confronted him, maybe he’d be embarrassed and leave. i love (sic) to see someone make an apology over the PA system... we apologize for this rude person... we’re not all like this!  *smile emoticon* bet they’d get a standing ovation! if we’d all take a stand there would be less of this bullying behavior.” 

Again, people that are not adults yet learn from those that are already classified as adults. How many of the posters on social media hold their peers accountable for spewing non-factual information? Not so many based on my year-and-a-half following Dawson Discussion.  

Oh, did anyone notice that a student from the visiting team’s section and this young man had an informal “dance off?” That was pretty cool too, and it happened near the end of the game; if the opposing team’s fanatics were as upset as the Facebook crowd, it is doubtful that would have occurred.

DCC won the game, in what was the most exciting basketball game I’ve ever attended in person, on any level. The final score was 116-109.  The crowd (not only our students) was amazing from the second half through the end of the overtime period. We have homecoming this week, February 4th, I invite you to come out and help make the Toepke Center Gymnasium the most difficult place on Earth for an opposing team to leave with a win!

J. Vincent Nix is interim president of Dawson Community College. He can be reached at jnix@dawson.edu.

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