Beaver’s Social Action Leaders (SALs) is a student-led group that focuses on social justice at Beaver and in the larger community. At the start of each year, they come up with an issue or issues that will be their focus for the coming school year. This year, SALs is examining the role of technology – specifically social media – in communication and the abuses that can come with it.
To that end, the group recently designed a provocative exhibit for the hallway in the science wing. Displayed on the wall are anonymous posts from students’ Facebook and Twitter feeds. Each of these posts is a revealing look at the way we communicate in an online environment. They contain racial slurs, profanity, and homophobic sentiments. However, the use of profanity was not the issue being addressed; it was the use of identifiers in profane manners. In accompanying “confessionals” the SALs themselves reflected on their own use of social media and times when they have used Facebook or Twitter to post inappropriate comments.
“This project is undeniably a very provocative one,” says SAL member Neil Hildick-Smith ’13. “I think the overwhelming support and enthusiasm our idea was met with by the faculty and administration here at Beaver is a huge testament to the school’s devotion to social justice and not shying away from the big issues that I believe many other schools would be uncomfortable addressing.”
The SAL’s goal was not to single out individuals for their posts, but to generate a discussion within the Beaver community about social media interaction and how it differs from face-to-face and other written communication.
The SALs decided to discuss issues raised by the exhibit with individual grade levels rather than with the school as a whole in order to have more productive conversations. During the time when students normally gather for the All-School Meeting, each grade met with representatives from SALs to discuss reactions to the exhibit. Conversations ranged from reasons why people might post those types of comments online to how students felt reading them and seeing them on public display.
Coinciding with the exhibit, the Beaver Parent Partnership, a parent group concerned with discussing social issues of importance to teenagers, sponsored a social media “boot camp” evening with Doreen Nicastro, a social media consultant. The evening was designed to increase parents’ awareness and knowledge of social networking, discuss cyber-citizenship and digital literacy, and share best practices to keep children safe and smart online.
Nicastro was impressed with the SAL’s exhibit, writing on her website, “We applaud Beaver Country Day School leadership for their courage and vision. By allowing students to take risks, they shed new light on the impact of their dialog and relationships on social networking sites.”
The SALs hope that the exhibit will have a lasting impact on the Beaver community and that people will think about it when they are communicating via social media.