15 January 2010
29 Tevet 5770
As many of you may already know, I addressed the student body last Friday about a very disturbing incident that occurred in our community in which a student or group of students created a blog designed to spread rumors and post gossip about other students. As disturbed and disappointed as I am by this behavior, I am proud to share with you that students themselves spoke out against this, brought it to the attention of teachers and administrators, and, ultimately, through their own unwillingness to tolerate this kind of behavior, it led to the prompt shutting down of the blogs.
I admit it is difficult to write about such an embarrassing blemish on our school community, but I want to share with you my words to the students to give you a sense of how we have handled and are handling this situation, and to give you an opportunity to debrief and discuss this incident and, more broadly, the values and the lessons we can learn from it.
Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov (Happy New Month of Shevat)
Rabbi Marc Baker
January 8, 2010
I am sure that most of you are aware of this, but, if you are not, I want to bring it to your attention. Over the past week, two very disturbing blogs have been created entitled “Gann Gossip Girl” and “Gann Gossip Guy”, ostensibly with the intention of posting information about Gann students for the world to see. I am happy to share that both blogs have already been taken down, and all information about students was removed last night.
This was a low point for our community, and it is also a victory for our community.
It is a victory because so many of you spoke out against this in classes, sichot (discussion groups), and on the blog itself. You chose to be upstanders. You understand that our values are not just formalities about which I lecture you. You understand that our values are real and that this kind of behavior is simply not right. It is childish, inappropriate, and hurtful. To all of you who rejected this, you should be applauded. You are upstanders.
And it is also a victory because the fact that this has been taken down, at least for now, illustrates the power of our community and of your voices, the power of the people, so to speak. I think we all know that more powerful than the threat of punishment, more powerful even than an inspiring talk by the Head of School, is the power of each one of you and of you as a collective. When you voice your opinions, when you stand up for your values, when you refuse to tolerate the violation of those values, you send a message more powerfully than I or any of your teachers could.
You have proven this week that the character of our community is in your hands.
But this is also a low point for our community. I know too well that we are not immune to real world problems here. Yet, I admit that, in this case, I am saddened and disappointed. This should not happen here.
What issues does this raise about our community, and what can we learn from this?
Who Are We?- Are we simply part of and shaped by the greater culture in which we live, despite its problems and at times its vulgarity? Or, can we also be countercultural and create a community that truly reflects our values? Are you going to be passive participants in our society or agents of change?
The Internet – How are we going to use the powerful tools of the internet and the public forum that it creates? Social networking creates opportunities to build community, but those of you who contributed to this blog used it to destroy community. This is not the first time, and it will not be the last that cyberspace becomes a forum in which to display ugly, crude, inappropriate, even illegal, behaviors publicly and for the world to see. How can I help you understand how risky this is for your own futures and your safety, how damaging this is to people, and how morally problematic this is? Some things should not be said at all. But if they must be said, at least have the courtesy, the dignity, the shame not to say them or write them in public.
Free Speech – This was a gross misuse and misunderstanding of free speech. Free speech is not going to be used, at least, not in our school and our community, to say or write hurtful, hateful things about other people. That is not the purpose of free speech. Moreover, to write or say something anonymously without taking responsibility for yourself and your voice is cowardly and is counter to the spirit and values of pluralism on which the foundation of our school rests.
Lashon HaRa (the Jewish prohibition against gossip and hurtful speech) – I am not going to stand here and cite Jewish source after Jewish source about how words create and words destroy, about how lashon hara is the equivalent of murder, and about how, when you say something or write something about someone else, you cannot ever take it back. You have all learned this already. Many of you know this was wrong but still found it funny or just silly and childish. But this is not child’s play. This really hurts people. The reason for cyberbullying laws is not just because a bunch of adults don’t get your high school humor. There are laws because this behavior is damaging and because this stuff hurts, whether people admit it or not. Even after the blog was declared over last night, people posted comments under aliases that were inappropriate and that poked fun directly at certain individuals. It hurts, and it is wrong.
The speed with which this blog was shut down is a victory for our community, but it is also a low point. Damage has been done, and there is Teshuva to be done. I do have information about some of you who contributed to or forwarded the blog, especially if you used your Gann email account. If you contributed to this in any way, you should expect to hear from me. I encourage you to come forward first and to take responsibility for whatever small role you played in this.
And to the person or people who created these blogs – you need to know that you have deeply hurt our community, your community. You should come forward and take responsibility for your actions. If you do so, we will work together to figure out a way for you to make amends with our community. If I find out who is responsible for this before you come forward, there will, needless to say, be serious consequences.
Let us celebrate the power of our community and the power you used to reaffirm our values and bring a stop to this. But let us not for a minute think that this cannot or will not happen again. I ask you to reflect on what I have said today and to think about the people you want to be and the community you want us to be.
The character of our community is in your hands.