Monday, October 10, 2011

Face(less)book: Why Colleges Should NOT Use Facebook to Screen Applicants

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Today, Ryan Lytle of US News published an article titled "College Admission Officials Turn to Facebook to Research Students." The article reveals a growing trend of college admission officials using Facebook and other forms of media to check up on applicants. The consequences can be serious, as Lytle reveals:
In the Kaplan Test Prep survey, 12 percent of respondents who reported checking social media sites noted that posts—such as vulgar language in a status update or alcohol consumption in photos—negatively impacted a prospective student's admissions chances.
Some of the interviewees believe that Facebook is public access, and therefore, the school's right. While Florence Hines of McDaniel College was not one of them, she does say:
"I believe the reality that if this trend increases, students need to be very cautious of the fact that admissions offices will use this information."
As a student and someone hoping to join the ranks of professional academics in the near future, I think this is utterly ridiculous. Colleges screening applicants on Facebook? Really? Will we be installing Big Brother in college dorm rooms next?

When I was a high school student, I never smoked or drank or did anything completely appalling, but I also know I changed immensely throughout college, especially during my first year. And making mistakes is part of the process of adolescence. Who hasn't sworn to seem cool as a teenager at least once? Who didn't say or do something as a teenager that as an adult you would never do? I know, for instance, that I described things that I thought were stupid or silly as being "gay" when I was in high school. It took a friend in college to make me realize just how insensitive and offensive that was, and I have since given up using that term. Similarly, just because a student's profile has lyrics from some terribly profane hip hop song, it doesn't mean that the student is a "bad kid" or unworthy of college entrance. In many cases, high school students still haven't reached the level of awareness that college students are granted through their educations. They don't understand the politics or the power of the language that they use, and it takes people they admire, often college professors or well-educated peers, to show them why they need to change their ways. The more I learned, the better the person I became, more socially aware and socially just.

Furthermore, we have multiple identities, and we should be free to express them. The fact that employers and colleges are now tracking my every move online makes it difficult to do so, and I don't think that is healthy. I admit that while I never believed my personal Facebook account was inappropriate, I did eventually move to making it completely private and creating a public professional account. While I make it a point to avoid doing stupid things, drinking too much, or taking embarrassing photos, I go out often, and more particularly, I like to go to night clubs and dance. I love house music. Several of my friends enjoy the same music and dancing, and so, I often share music on my wall or post updates about our favorite djs being in town. From time to time, pictures also come up, and while none of them are inappropriate, a hiring board might see me in a mini dress with strobe lights in the background and make assumptions. I wanted to communicate with colleagues, and I knew I would be harshly judged. People would assume "oh, she's a partier," and that would be end of that.

But should I stop living at 25 because someone might decide that they want to stalk me online and make judgments based on incomplete information? It makes me angry that I could and probably will be judged on things that have nothing to do with my teaching. I am responsible. I show up to work early, I give good feedback and take time to work with my students, I enjoy collaborating wit my colleagues, and I constantly immerse myself in research. It makes me even more upset that some really amazing students who may have become greater thinkers and doers might never have a chance to sit in my classroom because somebody on the admissions board decided to check their Facebook page and make a judgment call.

In the article, it is also suggested that smart students can use their online presence to showcase themselves, but I would argue that that is capitalism at its worst. First of all, this means a great deal of self-censorship and that is not always a good thing. As we learn from M.L. Pratt, much can be learned in the contact zone, where niceties and consensus is no longer important. Furthermore, the "smart kids" who do this will inevitably be mostly white, upper-middle class students who have had access to computers all their lives and who have had teachers tell them how to shape themselves to fit the professional model. And while we're at it, let's be honest here: a Hispanic boy who enjoys hip hop is more likely to be "screened out" than some White girl who listens to country. White/white collar culture is shaped around professionalism and political correctness; other cultures are not. Inevitably, screening profiles will mean cookie cutter online identities. Like college admissions essays, profiles will all start to sound the same.

Worst of all, though, by screening applicants, rather than educating them, colleges do a disservice to young adults. They deny them the opportunity to interact with new, diverse groups of people who will challenge their hegemonic ideals and ideas. Think of all of the texts and the discussions about those texts that occur in college. I know that my coursework has shaped me, and I know that I am not alone in that sentiment. I would never have picked up Foucault's Discipline and Punish if not for my literary theory course. I would never have read Geneva Smitherman's Talkin and Testifyin, if I wasn't surrounded by Race Theorists, Postcolonialists, and Compositionist. I would think about the world differently. In short, I would not be the person I am today. A true democratic education would look past differences of personal expression and allow students to judge for themselves whose actions/views/beliefs are the ones they want to adopt.

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