Administration to Help Obies Talk About ObieTalk

Eric Estes and Ben Jones

To the Editors:

In the past several months, concerns in our community related to ObieTalk have grown significantly in number and severity, as has the related correspondence to our offices from both students and parents. Meanwhile on the national landscape, the jury who convicted Dharun Ravi of bias intimidation simultaneously sent a message in no uncertain terms that “immaturity and stupidity” are not viable defenses for cyberbullying.

We have always taken concerns about potential harassment and threats very seriously and continue to strongly encourage students to report them to the Office of Equity Concerns and local police, respectively.

But it is the right moment to address ObieTalk and its problematic impact more deliberately than we have in the past. Let us be clear — the administration has never wanted to be dictatorial about ObieTalk, nor do we now. In fact, we recognize the practical limitations on controlling ObieTalk, which is not hosted on a College server. At the same time, we remain committed to protecting the right of all students to a safe and respectful environment free of discrimination and harassment.

The best possible resolution to the climate now facing us is to help provide you with better control of your community and conversation — of which ObieTalk has become an inevitable part — and then get out of the way. We recognize that there are benefits to having a venue for anonymous online discussion. We seek only to empower you to keep what is beneficial and eliminate what is harmful. To clarify the latter, the majority of you feel that it is time for the personal attacks and racist/sexist/homophobic trolling to cease. We are committed to helping you make this a reality.

Last Friday we met with College junior Will Adams-Keane, who owns and runs ObieTalk. We asked simply that he enable a technology solution that would allow for community moderation, similar to functionality that exists on many other high-traffic sites that are difficult for an individual or even a few individuals to properly moderate. Will was amenable to this idea, but he will not have time to implement it until after the school year ends.

As an interim step, we asked Will to consider sharing his existing moderator role and privileges with additional students. He agreed, on the condition that the moderation follow a set of guidelines to be determined by a group of students inclusive of the spectrum of opinions related to ObieTalk.

For proper implementation of this plan, Will will need the assistance of at least 10 student volunteers to serve as an interim team of moderators until such time as he can update the site with community moderation functionality. If you are interested in volunteering in this capacity, please send one of us an email.

In closing, many thanks to Will for working with us to address this sensitive and complex situation in a fair and balanced way. We remain confident that ObieTalk can be a place that is beneficial to all students, ideally to the point that the administration can forget it even exists — a very welcome concept to both of us. We look forward to working with you all toward this goal.

As always, Safety and Security and the Dean of Students Office are here to help students in need of consultation and support related to these issues.

–Eric Estes
Dean of Students

–Ben Jones OC ’96
Vice President for Communications