Social media a glimpse into professors’ lives

Before the creation of sites like Facebook and Twitter, a professor’s life outside of the classroom remained a mystery for students. Interactions between students and faculty were limited to face-to-face conversations, and emails served as one of the few digital bridges extending discussions beyond office hours. Although their existence is nothing new in the year 2014, social media’s rise has removed a wall of privacy by providing a portal into the personal lives of students and professors alike, nuancing the way in which they must navigate their online association with students.

Last month, a student reported a Facebook comment made by Associate Professor of English Kiese Laymon to the Dean of Faculty. Laymon—who has over 2,000 Facebook friends and nearly 3,000 Twitter followers—is not friends with this particular student on the social media site.

In an emailed statement, Laymon restated the comment, writing, “Some kid…tried to turn something I wrote—‘Them shits move mountains and burn water. All praise is due to white tears’—to the Dean of Faculty.” According to Laymon, no actions were taken against him by the College.

While numerous professors use multiple social media platforms, the College does not have a policy that dictates if professors can or cannot friend or follow students. According to Dean of Faculty Jonathan Chenette, professors have to reach a decision on the matter based on individual preferences.

The College will only get involved if there is a potential violation of existing college policies. Chenette wrote in an emailed statement, “[Professor-student relationships carried out online] can lead to perceptions of favoritism, inappropriate intimacy, harassment, or discrimination that may raise concerns about whether there are violations of College policy… We have processes for investigating and responding to such concerns.”

He continued, noting that parties should be aware of their actions online. “Social media spaces, by blurring boundaries between public and private or professional and personal heighten the challenge of knowing when and how to communicate,” wrote Chenette.

Some professors take caution by not actively friending students, especially current ones, over Facebook; often, they will only accept friend requests from former students.

Chenette wrote, “My own practice is not to respond to Facebook friend or LinkedIn connection requests from current students. After graduation, I am happy to add LinkedIn connections for former students I know well enough to assist them professionally—the same students who might request letters of recommendation.”

Laymon will accept requests from current students, but he does so hoping they will respect his space as he does theirs. He wrote, “I don’t turn down anyone who friends me because that feels kinda mean. So if students friend me, I accept their friend request with the understanding that they’re friending me…What I say on my page is kinda like what I do in my yard. If they’re not down with something, I say, they are grown-ups. They can leave the yard.”

When it comes to other sites like Twitter and Instagram, unless your accounts are private, keeping up with everyone who follows you may prove difficult. Indeed, while professors may not know the exact number of students viewing their online activity, they do not feel it necessary to alter their behavior.

Associate Professor of English Hua Hsu commented in an emailed statement, “The faculty has had conversations about this stuff in the past. Though I think those conversations sometimes presume that students are way more curious about their professors’ lives than is actually true…I’m not overly conscious of how students perceive me via social media. The only time it’s come up was one time when a student asked me how/why some of the bands and magazines he followed on Twitter follow me.”

For some, one’s online presence is a reflection of a larger picture. Assistant Dean of Students and Director of Residential Life Luis Inoa thinks about what he would feel comfortable sharing with his mother, not students, before making any post. He further added that he wishes students would think more about who they are sharing information with online.

If I don’t want [my mother] to read it I will not post it. I do wish students who have friended me remembered that they are sharing with me as well. I wear multiple hats and when it comes to VC I never take any of them off,” the Instagram and Pinterest user wrote in an emailed statement.

Connections formed via social media can also afford students and professors the opportunity for educational enrichment, according to Chenette.

He said, “Social media create new spaces for interaction that can be fruitful for learning and mentoring and exchanging ideas but can also be damaging. We’re still learning how to navigate and interact in such spaces.”

Inoa expressed concerns that while social media widen the barriers between students and professors, they also create some tensions that can be restricting.

He said, “I am fascinated by the ways in which Facebook both enhances and limits community. As it pertains to student/faculty/administrators and Facebook, we just need to remember that following, liking and commenting on a post does not mean that you know, really know someone. Yes it is revealing but it is never a reflection of a whole person.”

For Laymon, social media might not be beneficial to the student-teacher dynamic. In fact, it requires constant thought.

He said, “I think we should be aware of power and the abuse of rhetorical and discursive power as grown ups. I think the Facebook thing actually probably closes a space between teacher and student, and I’m not so sure that closed space is necessarily healthy… I can’t imagine looking at the way my professors talked to their friends when I was in school. I wonder if it would have made the educational experience more dynamic and robust. I’m not sure.”

14 Comments

  1. “Them shits move mountains and burn water. All praise is due to white tears.”

    So students complaining about BDS bullying are a bunch of white crybabies.

    40% of Israeli Jews are from Asia and Africa.

    You probably also know that the ones from Europe didn’t fare so well under white supremacy.

  2. “Them shits burn water and move mountains. All praise is due to white tears,” Laymon said right after the infamous March 3 meeting on Israel/Palestine. (Go ahead and Google it).

    About 40% of Israeli Jews are from Africa and Asia (largest numbers from Morocco, Iraq, Yemen)

    As far as we European Jews go, you may have heard that our relationship with white supremacists has not been a peaceful one.

    Mark Wagner (class of 96)

  3. Mark, what are you talking about? So, 40% of Jewish folk are from Asia and Africa?

    So.

    I didn’t see one student at that event cry. Did you? I’d never make light of any students tears, goofy.

  4. Everyone knows that “white tears” doesn’t literally mean tears. It means white people complaining about bad treatment. Apparently there was a big meeting in which you participated. Jewish students complained and later on you made your comment. It isn’t that deep. If you meant something more intelligent, you should say so.

  5. Nope. The person who started facebook thread a number of responded to was literally talking about white tears, smarty pants. Real white tears. Tear ducts and all that. And no one I know said anything about Jewish students crying. No one. I didn’t see one student of any race crying at the event. You are brilliant.

  6. You say “I’d never make light of any students tears,” then you say there were “real white tears. Tear ducts and all that.” So which is it? And why would a student complain to the dean about it if it was some other random person who had nothing to do with the college?

    Your full quotation, which someone had posted on the “Context of White Supremacy Radio Show” page made it clear that you were talking about that event. Stop shifting your ground.

  7. Smart white person,

    Listen, there were far more groups of people there than students. One of my facebook friends posted something about white tears. And I responded that they move mountains and burn water. Because, duh, they do. But no one was talking about students, genius. No one was talking about students. Were you at the event, smart white person? There were so many smart white people there and I’m just wondering. Ask some of the other smart white people who were there. No students cried, smart white person. Not a one.

  8. The professor seems to have a real problem with criticism, and a habitual reliance on racialized insults. Now I fully understand why — according to Mr. Weiss — the professor was avowedly committed to ensuring that “cardboard notions of civility” were left at the door during the “forum” he led. http://mondoweiss.net/2014/03/ululating-israelpalestine-conflict.html

    If the professor conducts himself this way in the Internet “yard” and when leading important college events, I wonder how he conducts his classes?

  9. No, I wasn’t there. But since you apparently ran the meeting, you can clarify which crying people or person you were mocking–outside pro-israel (or perhaps pro-Palestinian?) guests. Like I said and you confirmed, your point wasn’t that deep. Funny that your more expansive comments on the COWS page came down right after I mentioned it. It would be a shame if someone figured out a way to capture what is on the screen at a given point.

  10. While you struggle to think of a comeback, Professor, I suggest you trot over to the library and get yourself a copy of Pascal Bruckner’s “Tears of the White Man.” It’s about how the far Left projects its fantasies of revolution and liberation onto brutal, authoritarian, and misogynist groups in the developing world without any genuine empathy or understanding. Them shits also get ignorant brothers with shady academic credentials great jobs at the best schools in the US and let them stay no matter what. All hail white tears.

  11. Mark, you’re still talking? Fam, google me. Now, google you. Or email me. Or come meet me. Whatever. Then, cry some white tears. And post again. Okay?

  12. Not for weeks. Thought you took the ball and went home. So if you’re ready to get back into it, If I had my students as FB friends and posted stuff attacking ethnic group(s) to which they belong, or ran a meeting where they got shouted down, I’d be in trouble. Why aren’t you?

  13. Comment edited: Couldn’t find this for a while because was erased from Laymon’s TL but here’s what Laymon said on FB oh so long ago…like, in March. This is an EXACT transcript, y’all, from Laymon’s mighty hand…

    “”Them shits burn water and move mountains. All praise is due to white tears.”

    This is what a white student turned me in to the dean for.

    Thanks yall for caring. I didnt let you down. I wont be getting called in again for what i write on facebook And neither will any other black and brown professors burdened with cleaning other folks mess.

    Them shits burn water, move mountains and get niggas sent to the deans office. All praise is due to white tears.

    Squad.”

    End quote. You decide who wins and who loses, Who gets to threaten folks like the dean and the college president and who has to shut up and sit down. Me silly. Me goofy. Me white person crying. But Laymon did NOT stop saying things on facebook as can be seen in this post….
    http://watchdogwire.com/pennsylvania/2014/05/29/intellectual-debate-stifled-via-fear-tactics-at-vassar-college/

    You want me to reveal who I am, Mr Moderator? Bullshit. I don’t have tenure. I don’t have a union to save my ass. Them shits truly burns.

  14. So who are the profs “burdened with cleaning other folks mess,” KL? Because it doesn’t seem like you cleaned up anything. Quite the opposite.

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