The university has now joined a host of other schools that have implemented a social media policy in an effort to prevent possible slip-ups on the Web from having damaging effects on individual students and the university as a whole.
Athletes, along with other students in leadership roles on campus, attended a meeting at the start of the semester where administration gave them the new policy, and asked them to sign and adhere to a set of guidelines.
While the university may not have experienced any major Internet blunders like some that have been seen at other educational institutions across the country, Vice President for Student Life Dr. Byron Weathersbee sees this as a preventative measure.
“We’re trying to get ahead of the curve. We’re trying to be proactive and educational,” he said.
The usage policy gives general guidelines for participating in social media sites, guidelines for the use of words, abbreviations, acronyms and/ or phrases and photo and video guidelines. It also requires students to provide access to their sites so that faculty are able to view them when necessary.
“I think the spirit behind this is protection — protection of our students, protection of their future, protection for the brand of UMHB, protection for our Christian mission. And I think we actually owe it to students to help put some framework to it, to help set some boundaries,” Weathersbee said.
Senior Vice President for Administration & Chief Operating Officer Dr. Steve Theodore said the purpose of implementing such a policy is to educate.
He said, “Mary Hardin-Baylor is an educational institution, and our job is to educate people, not only about math, science, history and nursing. It’s about educating students on life and how to be successful.”
Theodore said the administration is not interested in reading every word posted on Facebook or Twitter, but simply in making sure that nothing is written that goes against UMHB standards.
“What we’re looking for is just the inappropriate, vulgar stuff,” he said. “It needs to come off. It’s not representative of who we are. I think it hurts our students, and in the long run, I think it will benefit them because they toned it down.”
In order to help monitor potentially damaging content, the school is using a service from the organization Field House Media that filters through social media sites and alerts administration if something inappropriate is posted.
Both Weathersbee and Theodore stressed that students need to be aware that what they are posting is visible to a wide audience through the Internet.
“Everything you put on Facebook, everything you put on Twitter, unless you specifically lock it down, it’s wide open. It’s no different than walking down the sidewalk and hollering out your thoughts for all to hear. It’s available,” Theodore said.
Associate Professor Effel Harper teaches a course on social media at the university and has found that many students are maybe not aware of the potential dangers of social media because they have become so used to it as a part of their lives. She believes the new policy gave some the opportunity to think about those possibilities.
“I think the social media policy probably made some of them more aware that maybe weren’t as conscious,” she said. “Our sophomore class this year, they were born with the Internet. They’ve always had it, so they don’t look at it as having any intent of being harmful.”
She said students need to understand the impact that what they are posting can have on their future.
“Most employers are going to do a Google search and social media search,” she said. “You don’t want anything that’s negative out there because you don’t want anyone to have already made a decision about you before you even get to go in and have an interview,” Harper said.
Though the new policy may seem extreme to some, Theodore said that, in the end, it really won’t impact very many on campus.
He said, “We have great students, and for the most part this policy isn’t going to affect anybody. There’s maybe 1 percent of our population that will be impacted by this, that we’ll have to call in every once in a while. Ninety-nine percent of our students are amazing. They’re smart and they get it.”