We’ve all seen it: The Internet can be a cruel place. People say things they would never, ever say out loud. Anonymity can be used, but it can also be abused. Think about the things people have said to you on Tinder. Think about the comments you’ve read under YouTube videos. But these hateful comments can be brushed aside. The anonymity of them goes both ways. You block that person. You click out of that video screen. You don’t know them, and they don’t know you.
But at Williams, we are not anonymous. We are not a group of individuals that happen to live in the same teeny-tiny place. We have chosen to be here. Chosen to make the purple bubble our home for four years. Chosen to be part of a community. Most of us came here hoping to make this bubble a better place and hoping to find this bubble to be a better place. We, at Williams, hold ourselves to a higher standard than YouTube commenters and Tinder abusers.
But lately I have seen our community break down in ways I had never dreamed it would. I first saw this my freshman year on Williams Students Online (WSO). People said things they would never say to each other in class, at a party or in the line at Driscoll. And just these past few weeks this phenomenon has cropped up over and over again. I was horrified reading the comments on the Waka Flocka event page and the Record website, seeing statuses people posted on the new Yik Yak app. It was shocking to me how insensitive, how cruel we became when we felt protected by our computer screens. What’s sad about this is that it profoundly influences our community here. There are fewer than 2,500 people at this school. We know each other. We take the same classes. We play on teams together. There is no reason to curse, no reason to use capitalization to shout, no reason to personally attack someone online.
The world is not a competition for whose snarky, backhanded, sarcastic comment can get the most public “likes.” When we lower our standards to this level, when we use the (relative) anonymity of the Internet to permit such base attacks, such crude humor, such cruel language, our point gets lost. And what’s worse, individuals get hurt.
Yes, we live in a world that is far, far from perfect. Microaggressions are real. Homophobia is real. Hate crimes are real. Terrible, inexcusable things happen – even at Williams. We confront them every day. Individuals make horrible choices. Professors say things that are wildly inappropriate. Students are targeted or excluded because of their gender, sexuality or race. Performers and speakers are funded by the College that are controversial to say the least. These are problems. And while they are not unique to our campus, we are in a unique situation in that we can address them in a way that is often impossible in the wider world.
While we live in a bubble here, we are certainly not shielded from all these things. This has become more than obvious in the last few weeks. And, frankly, I am proud to be part of a student body that doesn’t ignore those issues. I am grateful for all my incredibly courageous peers for speaking up and speaking out, for standing up for what they believe in, even if it means facing faculty members or institutionalized problems. Here in the purple bubble we have been given the amazing opportunity to look critically at our tiny community. We have the time, the space and the institutional support to sit down and try to be the best we can be. Just last week one of my good friends chose to stand up for what she believes in, delivering her demands to President Falk along with a group of students in the middle of Paresky. Nobody is denying that these students were being confrontational. What they did was brave, and what they did sent a clear message. Certainly their actions made some people feel uncomfortable – but their actions did not personally attack anyone. They were not mean and they were not malicious.
Clearly we have seen that these issues can be discussed face-to-face, through op-eds or online – in a respectful way. But if we choose to say these things in ways that attack individuals or groups of students – students we all know and love, students who we share bathrooms, locker rooms and entries with – we won’t get anywhere. Instead, the actual argument gets lost in vindictive attacks and comments dripping with sarcasm. Voices go unheard.
We are a community of incredibly talented, intelligent, well-educated individuals who should be able to respect each other on a fundamental, human level.
Liliane Nienstedt ’14 is a chemistry major from Abu Dhabi, UAE. She lives in Dodd.