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An open letter to all readers …

(At the request of several readers, I take the liberty of moving this letter back to the top to be sure that our surfing readers may catch the wave at sometime while they’re at the break)

 

Observations on the  nature of ephblog

I’ve been blogging on ephblog for a year now. Sophmom and I showed up at the same time. We have both become active participants but in different ways. My way is the fast jab or some sophomoric parody. 

Sophmom’s way has been to participate in discussions and to become involved with the very essence of the thread arguments, eloquently stating positions and defending them when rebuttals arise.

Sophmom’s contributions have also offered both support for others and a striving for some sense of positive closure on topics.

Because of these contributions and her involvement and as a representative of two groups thin on the ground and not well represented on ephblog – parents and women- she has been asked to join the board and has accepted.

The question of what is ephblog and what are reasonable expectations is being addressed by the board through soliciting your inputs. Responses to date include more participation by various groups like those represented by Sophmom.

But the same question has arisen in a much uglier form in the recent postings and thread re Phillips Exeter.

Without getting into the particulars of the discussions, I make these personal observations on the nature of ephblog :

1. ephblog is a place for discussions on topics deemed to be appropriate because the writer chooses to bring them up. However, the nature and quality of discussion in too many cases disintegrates into schoolboy taunts and an insistence on proving one’s point ad nauseum because the writer is always ‘right’,

2. ephblog is not in general a place to come for help with particular problems. 

3. ephblog is a platform for exposition on topics that in many instances assume responsibility for functions of the college trustees, administration, faculty, and student government.

4. ephblog is not a place to come for personal gratification or recognition beyond the satisfaction of saying what you have to say and seeing it in virtual reality.

5. ephblog represents whom it represents by self-selection. The tone and content play a role in determining this selection.

6. ephblog’s value in the wider Williams community is also a  function of this same tone and content.

As I am sure you recognize, I am just a jabber not a debater,.

But if any find resonance in the above, what positive might be done to add to ephblog’s presence and mission?

And my thanks to Sophmom for participating so actively and thoughtfully in an atmosphere she must find very difficult. I hope she will continue with us to help ephblog  improve.

My thanks also to the other few parents and women whom I am sure find the air oppressive.

Please help us open some windows.

 

Dick Swart

Hood River, Oregon

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#1 Comment By nuts On October 30, 2008 @ 1:14 pm

I appreciate your leadership.

#2 Comment By David Kane On October 30, 2008 @ 1:45 pm

1) I appreciate the time and effort that Dick, Soph Mom and other members of the Board devote to EphBlog. My main thoughts on this topic are largely the same as 4 years ago.

2) As the About page notes, EphBlog is like a party. A good Williams party is not the same thing for all guests. Some want to get drunk. Some want to argue philosophy. Some want to dance all night. Some want to talm quietly away from the music. Some want to hide in the corner and do drugs.

A good host does not force his guests to do things that they don’t want to do. Nor does he prevent them from doing things they like, as long as the doings do not impact the other guests.

I think that this analogy works for EphBlog because readers, like guests at a party, come here for different reasons. Some (most?) never read the comments. All the draining, argumentative and (sometimes) nasty back-and-forth is invisible to them. Other readers love that stuff (or so I have been told on multiple occasions). Some readers hate specific commentators. (I got a complaint about our beloved Frank Uible from a reader two days ago at breakfast.) Others love them. (I get more unsolicited praise for Frank than for any other EphBlog regular.)

So, the goal should not be to force EphBlog to be one way or the other, any more than the goal of a good party is to force everyone onto the dance floor. The goal should be to make the party maximally enjoyable for everyone by allowing readers/commentators/authors/board members to participate in whatever ways they find most congenial.

Alas, that is hard to do! Perhaps someday we will be able to provide the full EphBlog house party experience, yet the technological challenges are high and the number of technological Ephs with the time and energy to tackle the issue is small. (Big props to Eric and Ronit for all the work that they do on the site.)

I, personally, try to structure my own contributions so that readers can find what they want and avoid what they hate. I try to save my more argumentative side for the comments and be much more congenial and friendly in the main posts. I figure that if you dive into the comments you are looking for (or at least ready for) the serious intellectual back-and-forth of a Williams classroom with no punches pulled. Posts, for me, are more sedate affairs.

I also try (as today) to not take up too much space on the front page with a long post. This is analogous to not turning up the stereo too loud when my favorite song comes up.

3) Suggestions from readers on how to make EphBlog a better party are always welcome.

#3 Comment By Larry George On October 30, 2008 @ 6:21 pm

Since graduation many decades ago, I have often had the pleasure of spending time with other Ephs: with old friends, at regional alumni events, by happenstance, in Williamstown, and at sports events. We’ve talked about a vast variety of things (the Eph Conversation). In every single case, people have been polite, eager to foster the conversation, curious, inclusive, and really interesting (lots of fascinating experiences and quirky interests). They’ve also tended to be good listeners, rather self-effacing, and interested in other people and their ideas, opinions, and experiences. I had come to think of this mode of interacting as the product of a Williams education (or the desired product thereof, anyway), or at least of a fine liberal arts education (there is a similar mode of interaction among the Amherst people I meet). I was thinking about that because of something one of the parents said recently about the high quality of his or her face-to-face encounters with Ephs. I want my encounters with Ephs on this blog to be of the quality of my face-to-face encounters with Ephs, and I am regularly disappointed by how very, very far from that standard many postings and interactions on EphBlog fall.

I only keep reading because 1) many of the participants do provide an interaction that is worthy of the Eph face-to-face standard and 2) I do occasionally learn some things about Williams, a place that I love deeply. A few regular rotten apples and their assorted occasional soulmates almost constantly come very close to tipping a wobbly scale and chasing me away. Moreover, they often make this blog into a venue that does not deserve to be associated with Williams College or the many good connotations the word “Eph” has for me.

#4 Comment By Parent ’12 On October 30, 2008 @ 8:38 pm

Dick-

Your stewardship for EB is greatly appreciated.

I’m certain I could sign this for both readers & active participants.

#5 Comment By PTC On October 30, 2008 @ 8:56 pm

Yeah Dick. It is all good.

When are you guys going to do that EB party?

#6 Comment By PTC On October 30, 2008 @ 9:00 pm

David- I think a Ephblog party would make it the blog better. Honestly. Something in Williamstown… a informal dinner… drinks.. Water steet Grill, or Mezze. It woud be fun to meet other people who blog here.

#7 Comment By David Kane On October 30, 2008 @ 10:29 pm

We have had a couple of parties in Williamstown over the years. Attendees included Joe Cruz, Frank Uible, Diana, Ronit, and others. I hope that good times were had by all. We will almost certainly do so again in January. Details to come.

#8 Comment By frank uible On October 31, 2008 @ 7:20 am

The times are even better when David pays.

#9 Comment By hwc On October 31, 2008 @ 1:08 pm

I wish EphBlog featured more threads on Williams and college topics and fewer “open letters to EphBlog” threads. However, as long as you are asking for suggestions:

a) Encourage your board members to post at least one message with a substantive comment for each ad hominem attack they post.

#10 Comment By Soph Mom On October 31, 2008 @ 2:03 pm

“What Is A Troll?

The term derives from “trolling”, a style of fishing which involves trailing bait through a likely spot hoping for a bite. The troll posts a message, often in response to an honest question, that is intended to upset, disrupt or simply insult the group.

#11 Comment By PTC On October 31, 2008 @ 3:50 pm

I’ll buy.

#12 Comment By frank uible On November 1, 2008 @ 8:39 am

“Troll” has a number of other definitions which might be applicable – manipulate your computer, goddammit!

#13 Comment By PTC On November 1, 2008 @ 10:46 am

Why not do soemthing formal. Like a dinner, or a wine tasting… drinks at the Red Herring upstairs with a band… or something cool..

#14 Comment By rory On November 1, 2008 @ 10:47 am

first, i appreciate the comments of those who asked me to stay on ephblog. I also echo soph mom in pointing out that JG and soph mom expressed a similar frustration (albeit without capital letters) but received no such comments. It’s an interesting example of intent vs. interpretation. No need to go into that now.

i will do my best to divorce myself from the back and forths that have so frustrated me due either to the repetitive nature (me and david) or the games of victimization and cherry-picking (me and hwc). hopefully i’ll be able to continue with ephblog. i enjoy any way to reconnect to williams. unfortunately, ephblog has been less than enjoyable at times recently. Quite simply, it takes itself far too seriously (and i’m no help, i admit). It’s a blog about college. To quote a professor of mine : incredulously: “we’re talking about college. COLLEGE!”

i’d hope ephblog would strive for a collegiality and good humor in not only its posts, but its comments. i’d hope it avoids using individuals to make points about anything larger than that individual (and generally, to avoid talking about individuals). I’d like to see a series of “my favorite professor” or “the activity I was involved in” or “the one thing I WISH I had done” or “the one thing I’m embarrassed to admit I never did (cough-mountain day-cough). That’s an ephblog I’d be a full participant in again.

david-

there’s a consistently disappointed group at your party. they’re sick of only hearing rock and roll from the 1980s at this party. what do you do as host?

hwc-

bite me. you play the victim better than a conservative christian bemoaning the godlessness of pop culture or a race-bating demagogue jumping onto an issue a day late. you cry ad hominem before anyone even responds to a post. it’s a pathetic means of debate (bullying through victimization) and its what has turned me (and others who have contact me) away from ephblog. and yes, i realize the hypocrisy of this paragraph when compared to the above message. that’s how much you’ve annoyed me. I’ll try to avoid letting this anger seep into future comments (consider this a cleansing ritual), but I have a low tolerance for your style now after so many rude confrontations and accusations. take that for whatever its worth.

#15 Comment By sophmom On November 1, 2008 @ 12:54 pm

I mostly agree with what Rory says. And thank you Dick for your continued efforts to improve the site.

However, what I can’t do, is ignore the obvious intentions of a few to veer a discussion in a negative direction in order to grind their axe. I have now been on the site long enough to know exactly when and how this happens. Yes, HWC, I’m talking about you. The troll reference may seem harsh, and I don’t actually believe you to be an ‘internet troll’ in the full sense of the word, but comment #9 fits the description I posted, as do your constant efforts to bait on about 3 or 4 other subjects. You are a wealth of knowledge, and you have a lot to offer, but unfortunately it all gets filtered through an agenda that involves painting Williams in a negative light, and a style of posting that results in proving yourself right at the cost of insightful discussion. You do it so often, that when someone who knows it and recognizes it, finally blows, it is sharp enough to be conveniently viewed by you, as an ad hominen attack. You then play victim rather than taking responsibilty for your part in it. Cut it out.

I also will not stand by and watch innocent people made the victim of EBs more ‘curious’ bloggers. The vetting and endless discussion of Roseman was unconscionable. There were five threads on her, I counted!

Someone mentioned that it was no different than the vetting that any public figure could expect. Bull. There is no fair vetting that would allow some of the negative, unsubstantiated, unverifiable, and anonymous comments to not only stay put on the screen, but be quoted. And I’m not talking about JG’s intelligent and balanced response, so don’t even go there.

So…I apologize for diving into the muck yet again, but my intention is to make the best of Dick’s post, to make it a ‘turning point’ of sorts for EB, to say, that as a board member and frequent blogger, I would like to see some sort of policy established that allows the transparency and diversity of subject matter that DK so loves, while building an improved position of respectability for EB, with a tone that will make it a more welcoming place for the entire Williams community.

As well, I realize the hypocrisy of claiming I want a better tone of civility, while at the same time calling a regular poster, a troll. However, though I will try to control that kind of extreme reaction in the future, I will not ignore what incites it.

AND SO!

All that said, let’s try to have more fun. Dammit, tell me about your darn dorm rooms! Surely there are a few good yucks to be had in a little walk down Memory Lane!

#16 Comment By PTC On November 1, 2008 @ 1:23 pm

Uh… all I did was propose that we have a party… I said nothing about 80s music… or HWC, or Roseman… or skydiving naked

But while I am at it… let’s do the party in the New Theater… we can have strippers!! You know, actually put out that neon sign that Dick posted in photoshop! Yeah! Bada Bing!

What the heck is wrong with you people? Don’t you like wine and drama?

“Anyway you want it that’s the way you need it anyway you want it…” da na na na na na na, da na na na na na na, na! I like 80s tunes… so STFU!

Can we have that party now? Personally, I like everyone that blogs here.

#17 Comment By hwc On November 1, 2008 @ 1:56 pm

I think the problems with allowing long personal attacks against other bloggers are self-evident with no comment required.

I do wish to correct the factual record: I did not write one single word about Dean Roseman in any of the Exeter threads.

All I wrote in that thread was that, while I personally have no objection to gay marriage, I respect the opinions of those who may disapprove as being just as valid as mine. I believe it’s important to be inclusive and repectful of Catholic, Muslim, Orthodox Jewish, Baptist, and other members of the Williams community who may hold those beliefs on religious grounds. I learned a long time ago to respect people’s beliefs on such moral issues. Nobody gave me the exclusivity on correct moral or religious judgements.

The sense I got was that some members of EphBlog objected strenously to being inclusive and tolerant of those with differing views on the issue of gay marriage. It felt to me like a mob shouting down any member of the Williams community not embracing the politically correct endorsement of gay marriage. Specifically, disagreement over an issue was being, and apparently is still being, expressed in hateful personal attacks.

Whether EphBlog wants to be that kind of place is something the Board will have to decide.

#18 Comment By sophmom On November 1, 2008 @ 2:07 pm

I could get to Williamstown in February, and again, definitely in the Fall of 09, but not sure about January.

However, it was such a pleasure to meet JG, and a complete confirmation that flawed as blogging is, there isn’t so much distance between the impression you get from the words and the person behind them. We didn’t stop talking for the entire couple of days we were together.

So whether, DK pays, or PTC, and regardless of the music, (or strippers!), I would so enjoy making it to an EB ‘Summit’!

#19 Comment By PTC On November 2, 2008 @ 11:59 am

Folks… I think things get lost on the page, and the debate becomes to extreme and jaded without a face and a name. I am going to do it, the first four bottles of wine are on me… all I ask, is that no one “outs” me, or anyone else blogging here. That will be, the one rule.

I am not sure that will satisfy Dcat’s definition of open debate, and his call for an end to anonymous posters. But as I have said many times before… I am willing to meet everyone who blogs here, anytime. I am just not willing to splash my wears on the internet. Not at this time.

What are we drinking? When are others available? We could all pitch in, and have one hell of a good time. Early February, May, or this summer, works for me. Who is in? The place is obvious… Williamstown. The venue- I would prefer something with a view, but sadly, there is no such venue remaining in the Village Beautiful. (if anyone has an idea, let me know). So I am thinking the second floor of the Red Herring… for wine and food. Another possibility, but a bit more pricy, would be the Mezze… and for just standard American food, but less of a venue for an intimate atmosphere…. the Water street Grill.

HWC- you should come. Who is in?

#20 Comment By PTC On November 2, 2008 @ 12:04 pm

I think a hike would be cool too. Stone Hill. Visit the Williams museum of art, the Clark, then hike Stone Hill.