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More on WSO Discussions

From eph2015 (on the demise of WSO Discussions):

I think this is a positives step. Keeping these kinds of discussions to Facebook keeps it relevant to just those who are on campus. We don’t want parents or alums reading our every word. A current community can’t thrive when it feels like it’s being watched in this way. On Facebook, we have options to limit the visibility of our posts to only those we want to see them.

This is problematic on several levels:

First, how is a first year supposed to read these discussions? Not everyone keeps their Facebook feed open. She may not know many/any of the people involved in, say, something like The Taco Six. So, by not having this discussion on WSO, you are preventing much of the campus from participating.

Second, even among the people connected on Facebook enough to see some of the discussion, there will be a natural tendency to mostly see/read the comments from your friends, i.e., that part of the campus most likely to agree with you! In fact, the more likely someone is to have an opinion radically different from you, the less likely you are to see what she writes.

Third, the issue has little to do with “parents or alums reading our every word.” The critical thing is that WSO Discussions does not exist. If it existed and only students/faculty/staff could see it and participate, that would be fine.

Fourth, this claim is false:

A current community can’t thrive when it feels like it’s being watched in this way.

WSO, just a few years ago, was an amazing on-line community, thriving in every imaginable way. Alas, the links don’t work for me anymore. (Obviously, I should have saved local copies.) Do they still work on campus? How about:

Katherine Dieber ’07 on campus racism.
Nick Greer ’08 on the Odd Quad.
iana Davis ’07 on athletics at Williams.
Cassandra Montenegro ’06 on Queer Bash pornography.

Fifth, stand by for progress! It looks like WSO Discussions may revive. Here’s hoping.

For branding, instead of calling it “WSO Discussions,” we might try for something better. How about “Uncomfortable Learning” or “Gaudino Forum?”

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#1 Comment By frank uible On January 16, 2015 @ 7:04 am

Additionally undergraduates don’t need faculty and staff’s looking over the undergraduates’ shoulders at their every thoughts.

#2 Comment By eph2015 On January 20, 2015 @ 11:29 pm

1. I agree that Facebook is not perfectly inclusive, but you underestimate how quickly first-years become connected with upperclassmen conversations through their JAs and other friendships. The current Williams FB community is extremely connected, though I know this can be difficult to understand for alums from long ago. YikYak is also an effective way to discuss with students outside one’s social network, and has prompted some interesting conversations. It’s also much more private from the prying eyes of alums and parents. It’s not perfect, but neither was WSO.

2. This really isn’t true. YikYak had hundreds of posts that night explaining and discussing the issue over and over, providing those out of the loop with a way to get informed, and showcasing a wide variety of opinions. Students also saw statuses by people they hadn’t met due to friends commenting on them, and were thus exposed to the ideas of those outside their immediate friend groups. It was also clear from the conversations that rather than everyone agreeing with their friends/acquaintances, the controversy actually exposed a lot of divides among people who might agree on other issues. If you weren’t on Facebook to see it all go down, you can’t postulate about what it was like. But I can tell you that hundreds of students engaged in the discussion on FB and YY, more than I have ever seen engage with a WSO discussion in my 3.5 years at the College.

3. Faculty and staff seeing it would absolutely NOT be fine. WSO discussions failed in part because people became afraid to go on record in such a semi-public place directly tied to the institution. Thus, towards the end of its life it attracted more bold and outspoken students, while more cautions ones failed to engage, or watched in silence. If it was completely restricted to students, yes, that would be fine (though the tide may have turned too much towards social media at this point).

4. It depends on what you mean by “thrive.” There have always been students who have made great posts on WSO. But again, I know from many conversations with current students that while a fair number looked at the more heated discussions, many (if not most) chose not want to engage in the same way that they currently do on social media, which is private from the administration, faculty, parents, and alums.

The landscape of the digital Williams community has changed, and yes, there are both pros and cons to this. I’m sure it’s uncomfortable to see changes at your old alma mater, but that’s part of new generations making it their own.