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Harvard University recently decided to rescind admission for ten high school graduates after they posted mean and hate-filled comments in a private Facebook chat. This made headlines across the country and sparked a spirited debate about free speech. While free speech is important, I believe the real issue is the accessibility to electronic media that is filled with meanness, harassment, and hate. Every high school in the country that has students with access to smartphones, tablets, or computers has faced the challenge of students posting, sending, or texting mean, bullying, harassing, or even criminal information.

With a false sense of security and a feeling of empowerment due to anonymity, young people find themselves caught in discussion threads that are bullying, mean, or racist. The words fly easily from fingers to a tiny screen where consequences seem remote. But the consequences are real and we have a generation of kids who see the meanness and harassment as part and parcel of using technology. We have a generation of kids being hurt, scapegoated, bullied, or humiliated through online posts or texts. Typically, when I ask students how they feel after getting a mean or bullying text, most shrug their shoulders and downplay the impact. For teens, the feeling of being engaged or simply part of a conversation online far outweighs the harassment and inappropriate behavior that comes with it. But we should not be fooled by their shrugs. We should tell them it is never okay for anyone to be mean to them. We should tell them it is never okay for them to take part in a mean discussion, even if they are just “observing” and not responding. We should tell them they deserve to be treated with respect.

The question of whether Harvard should or should not respond to private Facebook posts misses the point. The point is that our young people who will be helping shape the future are disregarding humanity, common sense, and ethics to be part of a group or discussion online.

That is what should be getting everyone’s attention.

Marje Monroe
Director of Wellness