Offensive’ facebook.com groups lead to Medill forum

Allan Madrid

Journalism Prof. Michele Weldon said she was “shocked and dumbfounded” when she logged on to thefacebook.com Winter Quarter.

“There were hate sites and other sites that incite violence against students,” she said, referring to thefacebook.com groups created by some of her first-year Medill students. “There were some that compared a midterm to sexual violence and criminal assault. It was just shocking to me, and I’m not easily shocked.”

Four groups — “Editing and Writing the News Made My Quarter Hell,” “The Alliance for Unethical Journalism,” “I Was Raped by My Medill Midterm” and “History and Issues Cured My Insomnia” — compelled Weldon to send a mass e-mail to her entire class discussing the potential negative consequences.

In an attempt to discuss these findings and their implications on the ethics of journalism, an open forum between Medill administrators and Medill freshmen was held in the McCormick Tribune Center Friday afternoon. Medill Dean Loren Ghiglione and Assistant Dean Michele Bitoun, along with Don Wycliff, public editor of the Chicago Tribune, and Rick Morris, associate dean of the School of Communication, spoke to about 30 students about the legal and ethical consequences such Internet communities may have. Weldon had a previous engagement and was unable to attend.

Ghiglione said the forum was a perfect opportunity for first-year students to learn from the experience.

“There are questions about repression of free speech and damage of reputations that I thought needed to be discussed,” he said.

Medill freshman Matt Baker, who took History and Issues of Journalism Winter Quarter, said the forum felt more like a lecture than open discourse.

“(Students) needed to chime in,” he said. “The dean and the couple of profs who stood up there talked too much and barely had time for student comment.”

Some students complained that faculty were taking the groups too seriously, while others asked for alternative ways to criticize professors and classes without facing retribution.

Ghiglione responded to such questions by suggesting that students talk to their professors personally and make full use of CTECs.

“I do want to reassure you that CTECs are taken seriously,” he said. “We’re all open to trying to figure out how to do things best for our students.”

Reactions to Weldon’s e-mail ranged from calls of free speech to formal apologies, Weldon said. Several of thefacebook.com groups changed their names to less offensive titles. Membership significantly decreased in some groups.

Those students who remained in the groups said they did so to push Medill administrators to improve the quality of introductory classes.

“I joined the groups because I was frustrated with how History and Issues was going,” said Christina Owens, a Medill freshman who wrote a letter to The Daily regarding the issue. “They need to improve them. That’s thousands of dollars we’re spending and a lot of hard work wasted.”

Reach Allan Madrid at [email protected]