Protecting privacy: Respecting anonymity on a small campus

On Nov. 16, the Record ran an article on its front page about two students who had been arrested in a Williamstown Police Department (WPD) drug bust at Dodd House (“Two students arrested for drug possession after Dodd police raid,” Nov. 16). Ordinarily, this would have stirred curiosity and interest in whomever read the article, but the Record board chose to include the names and class years of both of these students. As a friend of those students, and as a member of the Williams community, I was shocked by this choice. Not only were none of the other students referenced in the article given names or class years, but neither of the two who were named was ever consulted about the facts or asked if it was acceptable to use their names in the first place. The Spring Street Blues column also contained a concise summary of the incident, in which their names were not included.

As an avid reader of all sorts of news, I completely understand that the Record is interested in publishing the full extent of the truth and as many details as are known. But is it really worth it to add in the names at the public expense of these two students?  Williams is a tiny school. Everyone knows everyone, and if they don’t they can look them up on WSO or Facebook within seconds. So to out these two students for something I have no doubt they would rather have kept private seemed an unnecessary decision by the Record board. When I spoke with members of the Record, they said that the names were included because they had already been released by the WPD to the press. Yet the difference between a student looking up an article on iBerkshires.com and seeing it on the front page of a newspaper distributed all over campus and to many alumni and parents of students is enormous.

Spring Street Blues, which is so often filled with juicy gossip and intriguing tales of the weekend before, never includes the names of students, faculty or staff that are involved as a matter of policy – Campus Safety and Security never releases these names to the Record. This is undoubtedly because of the embarrassment and shame that would be caused if everybody knew who got too drunk and was sent by ambulance to the hospital, or who got caught smoking in their dorm. Yet the article on Nov. 16 gave the names of these two students within the first sentence! The Record board stated that this is because the WPD releases the names of the accused to the public, while Security does not. But a change in the amount of information available should not lead to a change in what the Record publishes – just because they have the information doesn’t mean they should use it in an undoubtedly harmful manner. I believe the policy of the Record should be to not include the names of students who would suffer as a result of their inclusion.

At the College, we are not notified of which students have been accused or convicted of rape or sexual assault – something I believe poses a direct threat to my safety and well-being on campus. Yet two students who were in possession of controlled substances and may or may not have had intentions to distribute them are denounced in the most public forum available, the front page of the school newspaper. The discrepancy between these two is at best shameful and at worst a reflection on the twisted values held by our society about some sort of strange criminal hierarchy. What have we come to when an article about the arrests of two students who have not been convicted of any crimes is placed on the same page as articles about the horrifying racial death threat on campus? I believe that throwing these two students under the bus was a careless and hurtful choice by the Record, and I hope in the future the Record will protect the anonymity of students whose troubles it has no business broadcasting in the first place.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *