Saturday, December 08, 2007

What's a University to Do when Its Students Reveal to the World That They Are Immature?

The choice of Halloween costumes amongst college students has, within my memory, often been guided by the shock value. In the past, when a costume went too far, the offended people were limited to the those in attendance at the party where it was worn. The intertoobz has changed that. Now local outrage has become global.

Penn State students first learned about the power of the intertoobz back in 2003.
Pictures posted on the personal Web site of College Republicans chair Brian Battaglia spurred a strong response from student groups and university officials yesterday, with some calling for his resignation.

The photographs, taken at a private Halloween party at Battaglia's apartment, show multiple students in what Battaglia called "controversial or politically charged costumes," which included portrayals of Undergraduate Student Government (USG) Vice President Takkeem Morgan, an "oversodomized frat pledge," "sorostitutes," a "liberal hippie" and a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

A picture of a white man with a black-painted face and a bicycle chain hanging over his shoulder was accompanied by a caption that stated, "Apparently Takkeem was released long enough to come to our party. We thank the local police department."

The caption referred to a July incident in which Morgan admitted to taking a bicycle that did not belong to him. Morgan pleaded guilty to a summary offense of criminal mischief on Nov. 20.

The man in the photograph was former Town Sen. Jason Covener, who said he is a part-time student.

Some of the pictures from that party are posted at YAF Watch.

Of course, Penn State isn't the only school to learn about what the intertoobz can do, nor is it only students that end up in hot water over posted halloween pics. Last year, Penn was in the spotlight. (More Pics here.)
A student says it was just a joke, but his Halloween costume has resulted in serious criticism for University President Amy Gutmann.

Engineering senior Saad Saadi dressed as a suicide bomber for Gutmann's annual Halloween party Tuesday night, and photos were taken of him with Gutmann and other school officials.

Now, the pictures are popping up on the Web and alumni and others around the country are contacting the University to voice their distaste.

Well, it takes some time to climb the learning curve and Penn State students are still not at the top of the slope. We've just learned that once again in the intertoobz and halloween costumes just don't mix.
Update here - not all "victims" are Penn Staters.

Remember last year at the Blue and White game when we spelled out VT in honor of the shooting victims at Virginia Tech? Or all the Virginia Tech t-shirts everyone was wearing? Or the Penn State shirts in maroon and orange? Or the $110,000 Family Clothesline donated from the sale of those shirts? Well it all was just ruined, cause some people dressed like a "Virginia Tech Shooting Victims" on Halloween. People, if it's on Facebook, someone will find it.

We first came across an article on WSLS' website, the NBC station in Roanoke Virginia, which says that they found pictures of two Penn State students who dressed up like Virginia Tech shooting victims for Halloween and posted the pictures on Facebook. It's surprising The Collegian staff missed this when they wrote the piece on the "gay KKK member," "Aunt Jemima" and "pregnant black girls" that people dressed up like this Halloween (wtf is wrong with us here?)

None of these costume wearers have broken the law and all of them are protected from official sanctions by the First Amendment. How then should a university respond when their students show to the world that they are not quite yet mature? And what should a university not do in response to the world being shocked by that immaturity? Today Old Main gives us the answer to both of these questions. Here , via the CDT, is what a university should do.
“We’re appalled that these individuals would display this level of insensitivity and lack of common decency by dressing up in this manner,” Penn State wrote in a public statement sent to Virginia Tech. “The fact that one of the individuals is actually from Virginia makes it even more difficult to understand.”


Powers said the students would face no discipline from the university. Punishment would violate their free-speech rights, she said.

That's the way to go. A make a strong statement of disapproval and then go on to explain the concept of First Amendment protection. That should be the extent of the response. Of course, Old Main didn't stop there.
But at least one of the students met with the university Office of Judicial Affairs, Powers said. “That was more for a teachable moment than anything. ... We’re hoping that the teachable moment made an impression.
"Teachable moment" is a euphemism for intimidation. Intimidation can be just as effective in abridging a student's right to free speech as an actual punishment. In fact, it can be even more effective if the student is left with the impression that Old Main is out to get them.

Yes, I find the costumes in bad taste, but I find the thuggish response of Old Main to those costumes to be a much bigger problem.

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1 comment:

HOKIEHI said...

Here are the pictures and names.

Penn State Students Virginia Tech Halloween Costumes