Josiah accused Kenneth of taking a photo of him and his roommate, Jason, kissing, which Josiah states they posed for as a dare from Kenneth’s roommate, not proof that he was gay. The flyer in question had the same photo that Josiah described along with a paragraph declaring Jason and Josiah’s love for each other as well as an invitation to start a homosexual club, which meets every Wednesday in Josiah’s room (the room number was included).
Within a few days, Kenneth was sitting in my office convinced that he had done nothing wrong. We had a heated debate over free speech versus harassment and bullying; Kenneth disagreed with my conclusion that his poster was homophobic. He first claimed that it was a celebration of Josiah and Jason’s relationship, but when pressed, admitted that it was retaliation against a practical joke that Josiah had started. As evidence, Kenneth presented screenshots of Facebook comments targeting him as a “fag” and “gay”.
After speaking with Josiah for a second time, he acknowledged that the picture on the flyers was originally posted on Facebook and that his friend had made a homophobic comment about the photo, referencing and tagging Kenneth to it. When Kenneth read the statement, he was furious and insisted Josiah remove it. However, Josiah refused stating that it was his friend, not him, who had taunted him—therefore, he could do nothing about it. Once both stories were told, it was apparent that these two students had a serious lesson to learn about cyberbullying, homophobia, and the effects their tantrum had on the floor.
In order to teach Josiah and Kenneth about the seriousness of their actions, I issued intense sanctions that went beyond standard hours. Kenneth was required to meet with the LGBT Program Coordinator in the Wellness Center to discuss and plan a program that would be brought to the hall; it would present issues facing LGBT students, provide resources, and detail how students could become Allies in order to support our campus. Additionally, Kenneth had to write a 4-page reflection paper on three articles I provided for him, which were focused on cyberbullying and how it is currently affecting the young LGBT community.
For Josiah, he was also mandated to complete the same reflection paper based on the three articles I had already issued Kenneth as well as to create and post a bulletin board on cyberbullying for his floor mates so they were aware of what constitutes bullying. The bulletin board had to offer on-campus and off-campus resources available to students who may be in an abusive situation, facing bullying for their sexual orientation. Additionally, Josiah had to attend Kenneth’s program to understand how destructive his online behavior could have been if it had continued.
Both Kenneth and Josiah HATED my sanctions. They thought it was too harsh given the “insignificance” of the incident. However, I stand by my decision; my conscience would not allow me to simply issue the 40 hours of community service they deserved. Would it have been easier for me? Absolutely! But, they would not have learned anything except how to scrape gum off bleachers in the gym. By forcing them to reflect upon their behavior and compare it to the tragedies of the last few years, I truly hope they will think twice before using offensive terms like “fag” or ridiculing each other by falsely outing them as homosexual. Only time will tell if they learned anything more than how to hate me.