Don’t Ignore MiddFesh

By Jack Dolan

[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following text contains vulgarity.]

There are certain things we cannot discuss openly at Middlebury. Given that we are a small, close-knit community, there is a sweeping obligation to maintain an atmosphere of civility in order to allow the members of our community a sense of security. And, while we do pride ourselves on being an open and progressive campus, there still remain matters better left unsaid in public. However, while we cannot have student and faculty-led discussions with snacks and beverages about “Hottest people in Battell” or “I’m head over heels for my FYC … HELPPPP,” this does not mean students’ interest in having these discussions will evaporate because there is no school-proffered venue for them. These questions burn in the minds of many students. And when you have a group of kids with enough smarts and time on their hands like we have here, there will always be a way found for a will so strong.

Enter, Middlebury Confessional. Though the College does not own the website, to what degree are they separate? Certainly, it is a public domain that any Middlebury student can access. However, it is not like other higher-profile cesspools of the wild, wild web — like Barstool or Reddit — wherein the vast majority of participants are speaking to matters of national, if not global, import, and a personal connection between the persons of interest being discussed and the pseudonymous, faceless accounts discussing them is highly unlikely; Middlebury Confessional is a beast of our own creation. It could not exist without the College because the College is its sum and substance. In theory, MiddFesh is a forum designed by the members of our small community to (ideally) discuss important matters that we are otherwise incapable of discussing in public, whether due to social ineptitude or a general feeling that the parties interested in these conversations would be unable to conduct them safely in open discourse. This, unfortunately, is not the reality. Instead of the haven for tough issues and the soapbox for voices left otherwise unheard that I perhaps foolishly presume the website was intended to be, it has become a gossip forum in which students are largely either targeting specific individuals or groups for defamation or propositioning each other for sex — hardly the bastion of important dialogue it could be.

The claim that the website, which is entirely dependent upon the College community for its vitality and in which most students can find their name, is somehow disconnected from campus is dubious. It feels more in form and in purpose like an extension of the College, though in the website’s summary of its Privacy and Terms of Use agreement, it laughably asserts that the content posted does not reflect “the opinions of Middlebury College.” Of course, they meant the College as an institution but the irony does not go unnoticed.

But, if the website is indeed an appendage of campus discourse, why do we treat the content posted as though it were on the other side of the globe? These comments are being written by students here and are being directed at other students here. Furthermore, the significant dearth of “secrets” during the summer months indicates that most postings are occurring while students are on campus: in their dorm rooms, in the library, perhaps even on computers that the school owns.

There was a recent incident in which a number of students wrote a message on another student’s whiteboard that included the message, “you say you’re gay but we know you’ve never fucked a guy … so we’re gonna fuck you till you’re straight.” Clearly, these words are threatening and horrific. The school responded, later and with less gusto than some would have hoped. Nevertheless, the administration launched an investigation into the matter and sought out to find and to try the perpetrator(s). Yet, when somebody last year posted to MiddFesh on a forum on which a certain student’s sexuality was being speculated that if said student were gay, the commenter would “hatefuck him for being a conservative in liberal’s clothing,” nobody batted an eyelash. The student to whom the commented was referring did not take up any complaint. But, the question deserves to be asked: if he or she were offended by this content, could the student do anything about it? Or, on another note, if the same message posted online were written on another public space with high traffic from Middlebury students, like in the middle of College Street, would we still be quiet about it?

The crux of this rant is not to condemn the people who use Middlebury Confessional or even to discourage its usage — the website has important social value, whether used to discuss “Most precious takeaways from Middlebury” to “Where can I get LSD?” Rather, it is by acquiescing to the violent hate speech on MiddFesh while simultaneously making it a campus-wide news event on other occasions, that we create a double standard and thereby fail our fellow Middlebury men and women.

Privacy is unrealistic on the internet nowadays, just look at the front page of any newspaper for the past month. That which transpires on the web is inextricably linked to the welfare of our school, as evidenced by the outpouring of hate from the flag-pulling incident on a national scale and the dialogue on campus regarding to homophobic content of Chance the Rapper’s lyrics on a much more intimate scale (with a large portion of this dialogue taking place on MiddFesh). Though this is primarily the responsibility of the Middlebury Confessional’s administrators as comments like these violate their Terms of Use agreement, if the school is as interested in preserving the air of respect and civility as it claims to be, it would be in its best interest to be consistent with the precedent it has set regarding hate speech and at least investigate students who publically threaten to “hatefuck” other students. But, at the same time, we cannot and should not rely on the administration to identify and solve these community problems for us. So, therefore, the more important question becomes: why are we silent?

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