[From the editor: This letter was originally published in the Willamette Collegian, Issue 10, Oct. 30, 2013 by Miles Sari and Kelley Villa, the Editor-in-Chief and Managing Editor. I hope it will generate some responses and thoughts from our campus community about the role of the Hey Yous in The Trail. Please comment!]
In the largest show of “activism” ever seen in our three and a half years at Willamette, students have wielded the power of over 800 Facebook “likes,” showing diehard support for last year’s Collegian phenomenon known as the Hey You!s.
The Hey You!s were incorporated into our publication after previous leadership was inspired by the University of Puget Sound’s student newspaper.
One Tuesday evening during production, we had an unusually large amount of space to fill, and it seemed like a fun way to fill that space and increase readership. This was going to get people laughing, talking and, most importantly, reading.
Our staff began penning Hey You!s to build up their debut in the paper – the juicier and more explicit, the better. “Hey you! Professor in the skinny jeans, I wish you were straight.” “Hey you! Girl in bio, please settle down with the molestation of your hair during class.” “Hey you! Bistro barista, your London Fogs are almost as delicious as your bod.”
We laughed as we concocted more than half a page of “anonymous” submissions. Nothing was off-limits.
However, because of our comedic intent, we failed to realize what the impact of the (mostly) nasty things we were saying was going to be. We didn’t take into consideration how the person the Hey You! was directed towards might feel and react to the harassment published within our pages. We rapidly deteriorated from a student-run newspaper into a tabloid. The Collegian became Willamette’s burn book.
As submissions were opened to the public, it became clear that something needed to change. We needed to develop a policy that would moderate the content. The section got out of hand as we published anonymous expressions of lust for Bistro baristas and statements of downright disdain for individuals across campus. Faculty were addressed in unprofessional and inappropriate ways. We had opened Pandora’s box, and the contents were not pretty.
The Collegian abides by the Society of Professional Journalists’ (SPJ) code of ethics, which states that “ethical journalists treat sources, subjects, and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect.”
The Hey You!s are the antithesis of ethical journalism. We were gossip bloggers, addressing our community without a shred of respect. We inflicted harm, but now, as lead editors, we have the power to begin to heal the wounds we caused.
Thus, we decided to remove the Hey You!s at the beginning of the semester. We chose to withhold them in an attempt to increase the paper’s online presence. In order to maintain relevance, the Collegian needed to assert its online existence. Today’s news industries rely on interactions with their audiences, and in our case, that means students.
It was simple. Students loved the Hey You!s, so we figured their brief absence would provide an incentive to connect with our Twitter and Facebook. 500 likes and 500 followers – with a campus of more than 2,000 students, we thought this would be a breeze.
In the meantime, we planned to come up with a transparent, fair policy for the Hey You!s that would make sure what was being published was not bringing harm to any individual on campus. However, we realized that there could be no policy that would allow the Collegian to simultaneously keep publishing the Hey You!s and maintain the journalistic integrity outlined by the SPJ. The anonymous nature of the Hey You!s makes it impossible to minimize harm; we cannot know who the harm is directed towards and by whom it is generated.
More importantly, we realized that the Hey You!s violated libel law, which placed the Collegian’s future in jeopardy. Although we aren’t a professional publication, the Collegian is still expected to abide by journalism’s laws. We are lucky that we weren’t sued in the past for Hey You!s that clearly violated libel law (and Title IX) with unwarranted claims. One wrong Hey You! and that’s all it would take to put an end to the Collegian, a publication that has been part of the Willamette community for more than 100 years.
Besides being ethically questionable, publishing the Hey You! section was a risk that we could no longer take. We couldn’t risk continuing to harm the members of the Willamette community and jeopardizing the Collegian’s future.
Before we could inform the students that Hey You!s would no longer be published in the Collegian, an individual took the liberty of creating a Facebook page called “Willamette University Hey You’s” in an attempt to bring “joy back to campus.”
Within two weeks, the page has accumulated upwards of 800 likes, and the content is not being moderated or filtered in a clearly stated manner. Our campus is still perpetuating a culture of violence by leaving it up to the page administrator to moderate the anonymous submissions.
We concede that all Hey You!s aren’t harmful; there are some great examples of how a submission can bring joy to someone’s day if they think the comment is directed toward them.
However, the fact that Willamette has such a small population makes the existence of the Hey You!s impossible. It becomes a game of finding out to whom each submission is directed. We crave to know who is being objectified and who is being harassed.
More than 800 Facebook “likes” have confirmed that our community gets joy out of calling people sexy, expressing our hate for each other, or disclosing obscure inside jokes. Submitting a Hey You! explicitly conveying that a certain barista in the Bistro is attractive is no different than whistling at somebody as they walk to Safeway. Except you may have to sit next to that person in lab next Tuesday.
Imagine how the student workers in the Bistro feel. Imagine how our professors feel. Would you like to be constantly harassed? Would you like opening the paper each Wednesday, knowing you might see yet another submission about you? Submitting Hey You!s explicitly harassing identifiable individuals is no different than saying these things to their faces. In fact, it’s worse because anonymity excuses all responsibility.
We get lost in the humor that these posts bring. We fail to recognize that these submissions are directed toward human beings, and we can’t know the severity of the consequences. We may intend our submission to be for one person, but another individual might see it as directed towards them. Don’t you believe we should all be held accountable for what we do? Wouldn’t you want the person harassing and bullying you to be held responsible?
We need to think about these underlying issues as we continue to support a culture of violence and cyberbullying. We need to think twice about why these submissions are harmful to our community. We need to be held accountable for the harm we inflict upon each other, whether we intend to be hurtful or not. We may not intend to step on someone’s foot, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt them, nor does it mean that we are excused for our clumsiness.
The Collegian holds itself accountable for introducing this forum to the Willamette community. We recognize the consequences of our actions. We accept that we may never fully understand the extent to which we were hurting our friends, peers, professors, administrators and staff.
We made a decision that had several unintended consequences, and instead of perpetuating the damage, we hold ourselves liable for it. We take responsibility, and we have stopped contributing to Willamette’s atmosphere of violence by halting the publication of the Hey You!s.
And thus, we are holding you accountable, Willamette student body, for challenging the harassment and bullying that the “Hey You!s” preserve for the sake of “fun and games.” It’s time to stand up, Willamette. Stop contributing to the cyberbullying that thrives on our campus. Help us envision new ways of building community and new traditions that don’t rely on passive-aggressive comments.