On the surface, college dialogue seems to be all about  ’open-mindedness’ and ‘tolerance.’

To create this impression of a tolerant environment, many universities have “speech codes” that penalize politically incorrect speech, sometimes with severe consequences.

For instance,  Florida Atlantic University insists in vague terms that “everyone in the FAU community behave and speak to and about one another in ways that are not racist, religiously intolerant or otherwise degrading to others.”

But is it possible that political correctness and speech codes are actually stifling the very conversations that the campuses are trying to promote?

Afraid of open discussion, students with controversial opinions simply turn to anonymous online forums instead, driving conflict out of sight without solving anything.

Hamilton Secrets, a Facebook page where Hamilton students can share opinions with their community anonymously, was abuzz this week over the segregated Hamilton College diversity program.

Students raised points that they may not have felt comfortable sharing in public.

Below are just three examples from the dozens of revealing posts:

This kind of page is not unique to the Hamilton community; numerous colleges have “confession” pages, and others also have online forums.

For instance, Cornell has “Ezra Hub,” Oberlin formerly had “Obie Talk” (on which the Oberlin racism hoax started), Brown has “Brown University Confessions,” etc.

These pages allow students to engage in conversations under the protection of anonymity and to air grievances.  But at campuses where open-mindedness and tolerance are apparently encouraged, why do students feel that they have to go online to say how they really feel?

Internet trolls aside, the pages reveal pent-up feelings and a general miscommunication problem on campus.

Students can’t communicate in an honest way about controversial topics like racism. The Hamilton situation reveals how true feelings get pushed deep beneath the surface, due to fear of being labeled a racist or bigot by peers and the college administration.

The only way that students can get these pent-up feelings off their chest without risk is to go online.

However, the trend of going anonymous also brings problems. For instance, websites such as CollegiateACB give students the platform to bully and slander their peers online, without consequence.  This dynamic can negatively impact the college’s sense of community.

It is worth noting that there is also potential to use anonymity for positive interactions between students. In addition to “confession” pages, a number of colleges also have “crush” pages, where students anonymously share nice thoughts about classmates.

I posed the question of why students want to express themselves anonymously online to one of the creators of Ezra Hub, an anonymous forum for the Cornell community.

He summed up the answer by saying:

“A lot of students like to express themselves anonymously online because they can speak their minds freely without worrying about whether it will affect their employment, social status or reputation. On one hand this tends to bring out honest, insightful comments that individuals might otherwise be afraid to contribute, but it also tends to attract some off-color content that make effective moderation important.”


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