Linley Beckner 0

We Vow to Not Confess: End Cyberbullying on the Holyoke Confessional

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We, the undersigned, are petitioning the Mount Holyoke College community to immediately and indefinitely boycott The Holyoke Confessional on the basis that posts found on its forums violate: 1. the Honor Code; 2. the general harassment policy; 3. the nondiscrimination policy; and 4. endanger the safety and inclusion of all community members. The college has no legal recourse to have the site removed; we must take responsibility our actions and those of our peers. We vow not to use the Confessional. The site provides an anonymous forum for cyberbullying. We acknowledge the importance of free inquiry and free expression. However, we believe that the violation of the right of each community member to be respected, treated equally, and be free from abuse and bullying outweighs the right to free speech of the cyberbullies who frequent the Confessional. 

1. Regarding the Honor Code
The honor code states: “I will honor myself, my fellow students, and Mount Holyoke College by acting responsibly, honestly, and respectfully in both my words and deeds.” Posts on the Confessional are often irresponsible, dishonest, and disrespectful, violating the honor code. In regard to filing complaints about violations, the Student Handbook states: “If a member of the Mount Holyoke community reasonably believes that a student has committed a violation of College policy, s/he should address her/his concerns to that student before filing a complaint with the HCC. Any member of the Mount Holyoke community may file a complaint against a student, and complaints shall be lodged with the HCC.” Due to the anonymity of the posts on the Confessional, no student may handle the issue personally, bring another student to the Honor Code Council, or be brought to the Council, eliminating all accountability for these violations. Therefore, the Confessional provides a community-wide outlet for consequence-free honor code violations and threats to community members that cannot be traced back to any source. 

2. Regarding the Harassment Policy 
The general college harassment policy states: “Mount Holyoke College seeks to maintain free expression while protecting members of its community from harassment including, but not limited to harassment on the basis of race, color, national or ethnic origin, religion, sex, sexual [orientation], age or disability. Such harassment that targets an identifiable individual or group is clearly in conflict with the interests of the College as an educational community and may be in conflict with provisions of the law.” We must cease use of this site to protect ourselves and our fellow community members from harassment on the Confessional. For example, although “[t]he faculty of Mount Holyoke College reaffirms its commitment to an academic environment free of racial discrimination in which all individuals are treated with a common standard of decency,” racial slurs and attacks based on race are often posted on the Confessional. In one specific incident, a thread attacking a certain racial group was read by a prospective student who had used her host’s email to log into the site. Upon reading the thread, she asked her host if people were “really like that here.” The Confessional allows for harassment without consequence and misrepresents the college and the majority our community. 

3. Regarding the Nondiscrimination Policy 
The college Statement of Non-Discrimination affirms: “Mount Holyoke College does not discriminate in its educational and employment policies on the bases of race, color, religion, national or ethnic origin, sex, sexual orientation, age, handicap or disability, or veteran/uniformed services status.” However, the Confessional frequently includes threads that attack people or groups of people based on these bases, misrepresenting the community’s stance on discrimination. Racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, classist, and other offensive remarks, attacks, and threats are frequently made. Continued use of the Confessional for harassment and abuse perpetuates discrimination despite our Mount Holyoke’s policies. 

4. Regarding the Safety and Inclusion of All Community Members 
Many of the posts on The Confessional are detrimental to Mount Holyoke’s commitment to creating an inclusive environment “that supports, educates, and nurtures the identity differences of everyone in our community.” The anonymity of the Confessional makes it an easy forum for cyberbullying without accountability. Granted, the Confessional can be used for advice, networking, and in other beneficial ways; however, there are other, more positive places for such conversations to occur. For example, the college ombudsperson, residential life staff, counseling services, and other college resources are better prepared to offer guidance in environments that prevent harassment and abuse. Issues and conversations between peers and friends are more productive face-to-face. According to the definition of “cyberbullying” in Massachusetts Law St.2010, c.92, the harassment and abuse that occurs on the Holyoke Confessional is cyberbullying. On January 14, 2010, South Hadley High School student Phoebe Prince committed suicide as a result of cyberbullying. Several other young people have taken their own lives after being tormented by the types of online posts on the Confessional. Although Mount Holyoke College is a private institution, it is a school. We should follow Massachusetts and take a stand against bullying occurring within our community. Cyberbullying must not be taken lightly or pushed aside any longer. If we do not take a stand against the Confessional, we are knowingly taking the side of cyberbullies. Let this be our wakeup call before more damage is done. Our community members deserve to be protected from cyberbullying. 

In Conclusion 
Page 60 of the Student Handbook outlines Community Responsibility (“Mount Holyoke College believes in the right, indeed the necessity, of free inquiry and free expression for every member of the College community. [...] Ultimately the quality of life in the College is the property of the conscience of all its members”). By allowing the Confessional to persist unchecked, we are being dangerously irresponsible. The Confessional is destructive. The attacks on its forums are failures of our community, violations of our codes and policies, and threats to the safety and inclusion of our community members. The words and deeds on the Confessional lack honor, ethical discernment, and any sense of responsibility. The cowardly anonymous attacks devastate true openness, candor, dialogue, and debate, annihilating the trust and respect fundamental to our diverse community and our purposeful engagement. We are all responsible for the maintenance of our community. The Confessional is out of control. The bullying must stop. The end of the cyberbullying on the Holyoke Confessional is essential to the future of the Mount Holyoke College community, and it is up to us to stop it.


This petition was written by a group of concerned alumnae of Mount Holyoke College.


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