Posting on the Daily Jolt? Deans might be reading

Saturday, January 20, 2007

With posts that solicit everything from shopping period advice to illicit late-night rendezvous in the Sciences Library, the Daily Jolt Brown forum is the sort of raw informational minefield students might expect Dean for Student Life Margaret Klawunn to avoid.

In fact, Klawunn is often among the 3,000 users that Jolt administrator Olin Gay ’08 said visit the site each day. The site’s forums provide Klawunn, who is also associate vice president for campus life, and other administrators – especially those in the Office of Campus Life and Student Services – a valuable way to tap into the mindset of the student body, she said.

The site offers information about upcoming events as well as dining hall menus, amusing professor quotes, student photo galleries and other Brown-specific content. Though the concept for the Daily Jolt was created by students at Amherst College, Brown was the next college to jump on board. Today, 94 colleges have Daily Jolt sites, and Brown’s has the highest average traffic, according to Gay.

“It’s probably a pretty honest reflection of student opinion on whatever the topic is because it’s so easy for people to put something up there without being self-conscious about it,” Klawunn said.

She added that the site is a useful gauge of student opinion on issues such as the University’s August recommendations for revised alcohol and drug policies.

While students might not speak critically of the newly instituted per-drink charge to Klawunn in person, she said they might be more straightforward on the Jolt. “It’s a way to see a more uncensored view of campus issues,” she said.

But, she added, “There’s also some really vile stuff that goes up there some of the time.”

For example, one line of conversation, or “thread,” started early on Thursday morning by an anonymous poster discussed cats’ tendency to lick their own crotches.

The Jolt provides complete anonymity to those who post comments in its forums, though some users list their names or other information in member profiles. Posts are rarely censored, according to Gay.

Though the site is targeted at students, Gay said he’s not surprised that administrators read the forums. “It is one of its purposes to be a place where people can be more honest about what they’re thinking or wanting to say,” he said.

Yet not everyone on College Hill is an avid Jolt follower. Though Associate Professor of American Civilization Susan Smulyan said she reads the Jolt regularly, other faculty members told The Herald they knew little about the site.

Matthew Gutmann, associate professor of anthropology, said he only reads the Jolt if he learns he has been quoted on it. A quote from Associate Professor of American Civilization Matthew Garcia was featured on the site this week, but he said he has “only kind of vaguely heard things about (the Jolt).”

Kate Wolford ’06, who now works as project director in the Office of Campus Life and Student Services, said while she and other administrators do not post on the forums, they do check them regularly. She reads the site “to keep a pulse with what’s going on with students.”

“It is a good gauge for us to see if we’re communicating information in the right ways,” Wolford said. This summer, she said, many incoming first-years posted questions asking where they could pick up their keys, an indication that the campus life office had not made the instructions clear.

Wolford regularly sends administrators links to Daily Jolt threads, a practice both she and Klawunn said is fairly common. The Jolt “has come up from time to time” in administrators’ conversations, Wolford said.

When administrators noticed hostile posts directed at a first-year, they took action, Klawunn said. After Sean Quigley ’10 wrote a controversial letter to The Herald questioning on-campus protests against police brutality, insulting comments about him and his letter appeared on the Jolt. Quigley said he soon received an e-mail from a dean – “just in case I was harassed or anything.”

Klawunn said the negative focus on Quigley in Jolt postings concerned administrators and provided the impetus for the e-mail.

“When we saw (the postings) we realized, well, maybe we better have somebody talk to the person who wrote the editorial and say, ‘Do you need any support? How are you doing?'” Klawunn said.

Quigley said he hadn’t taken the posts seriously in the first place and “thought it was a little weird” that administrators e-mailed him about it, but he said he appreciated the dean’s effort. “It was nice that an administrator was in my corner insofar as I could express my views,” he said.

Quigley added that he was surprised but not bothered that administrators read the Jolt. “It never even crossed my mind that an adult would be looking at it,” he said. “I figure it’s just students that are reading it. … They post some pretty crude things.”

Jake Wasserman ’10 checks the site “once or twice a day” and posts under the name “Bibby66,” though he includes his real name in his member profile. He said he “kind of knew that” administrators might be reading the posts but added he isn’t worried.

“Even when I post something that is offensive or dirty, they know that it’s a forum where kids are going to be posting things like that,” he said. “It’s not that big a deal to me, I guess.”

Former post- editor-in-chief Fritz Brantley ’07, who posts under the alias “Capturing Moods,” was not surprised that administrators read the Jolt.

“It’s a public forum after all,” he wrote in an e-mail to The Herald. “I do think it’s a fairly honest assessment of people at Brown. More than any other forum, everyone I know reads the Jolt. I don’t know if they should enact policy based on it, but it’s not a bad place for preliminary looks.”

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