Letter: Whiteboard ban won't stop harassment or bullying
By comparative culture and politics sophomore Jack Kellett
When I saw this morning that MSU's Residential and Hospitality Services had decided to ban whiteboards from residence halls in order to reduce instances of harassment and bullying, part of me was relieved.
As a Resident Assistant who has witnessed firsthand the type of written harassment this ban is presumably trying to prevent, I know that whiteboards are common mediums for students to commit incidents of harassment, bias or other violations of MSU's strict anti-discrimination policy. Whiteboards on doors, especially with markers attached, are easy ways for anyone to anonymously communicate hostile, divisive rhetoric, some of which threatens the safety of students and contributes to a negative campus environment. Fewer incident reports for me to make, right?
Unfortunately, those who choose to engage in harassing or hateful language are not limited to whiteboards on doors. Writing on classroom or common area whiteboards, leaving notes on doors, sliding materials under doors, vandalizing pretty much anything and interacting anonymously via social media are alternative, yet just as effective, methods to communicate the same types of messages. The fact is this: vague censorship through the prohibition of one communication medium will not make hateful students less hateful, it will only make them slightly inconvenienced and make their rhetoric less visible.
Like asking someone who is bullied to just stay away from the bully, this policy makes the assumption that perpetrators are unchangeable evil-doers who will continue to do wrong. The only thing you can do is to make sure it doesn't happen to you. Obviously, this frame of mind is problematic, overly simplistic and inefficient.
Rather than asking, "what can we do to make it harder for residents to bully/harass other residents," the university should be asking, "how can we get residents to not bully/harass in the first place?" Does banning whiteboards contribute toward this more comprehensive goal? No. Is this a difficult question to answer? Absolutely. Is the answer mandatory, first-year online training sessions? Probably not. But rather than enact one-size-fits-all policies that will ultimately reduce community relations in residence halls, RHS and MSU should dedicate more of their time and resources to exploring how they can prevent bullying or harassing students from engaging in these mindsets in the first place.
At a university that is already treating topics like sexual assault, mental health, LGBTQ+ inclusion and racial or ethnic inclusion with similarly uninvested, naïve and ultimately ineffective "solutions," I'd encourage the university's administrators to do a careful re-evaluation regarding whether they expect this ban to actually reduce instances of harassment or bullying. What they will hopefully discover is that the problem is a little more complicated than $7 whiteboards.