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The Blue & Gray Press | October 19, 2017

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Student uses social media to advocate for free speech

Student uses social media to advocate for free speech
Office of Disability Resources

Office of Disability Resources

By HOPE RACINE

One student is taking to social media to push back against what she is calling a limiting of free speech on the University of Mary Washington campus.

Faith Pollard, a senior political science major, created the social media campaign #IStandWithFaith this past Monday after a confrontation with the Office of Disability Resources.

At the beginning of the semester, Pollard contacted the Office of Disability Resources in the hopes of receiving aid for a disability. What ensued was a series of back and forth meetings and confusion regarding medical records. By October, Pollard still had not succeeded in achieving the aid she desired and grew increasing frustrated with the duration of the situation.

Last week, Pollard posted a status on Facebook regarding her ongoing attempt to gain access to disability resources.

“Basically all it said was how unbelievable it was for Disability Services to just now be getting back to me 10 to 11 weeks later. It also said that they probably were sitting on my report for two to three weeks and didn’t tell me,” said Pollard, who has been in contact with the office since her first week of school.

Upon returning to the office several days later, Pollard was confronted by a disabilities resources worker who had seen the Facebook status.

“I was confronted by [the worker] with a printed out screenshot of my status. I explained to her why I was angry and why I posted it,” Pollard said. “But I left Disability Services thinking that I cannot say anything negative because I would be reported and then confronted. I left feeling implicitly told this is not welcomed.”

After discussing the situation with several friends, Pollard decided to speak up and make a social media campaign to alert other students.

“I want people to be mad about the invasion of privacy, unprofessionalism on this employee’s behalf and infringement of freedom of speech,” Pollard said. “I want people to understand this is not okay.”

On Monday, Nov. 10, Pollard and friends created the Facebook event “#UMWDisability Social Media Pushback.” Those attending the event were asked to use various social media accounts such as Facebook and Twitter to spread the message.

On Twitter, student organizations including The Blue & Gray Press and Student Senate were tagged, as well as the official UMW Twitter account and the IT Security acount. The tweets included the hashtags “#IStandWithFaith” and “#FreeSpeechIntimidation.”

“We want to raise awareness that negative free speech is not being welcomed at UMW,” the Facebook event said. “Free speech matters. We as students have rights to express opinions without any form of intimidation.”

While the Tweets persisted through much of Monday, the campaign did not catch on as much as they might have hoped.

“This was a very isolated movement that didn’t really catch fire on social media. I had a lot of people like my Facebook status, but none of them shared or spread the word like I would imagine a truly successful social media blast would work,” said Maggie Stough, a senior English major who participated in the event.

Though the campaign was spurred by a desire for freedom of speech, the underlying issue that many students saw was the need for professionalism and university guidelines in regards to students’ social media accounts.

“I want UMW to understand that social media is at its primitive stages and because it is not going away, UMW needs guidelines to figure out what their role is in social media what is acceptable behavior of their employees,” Pollard said.

Though the campaign was isolated to Monday, the students involved considered it a success.

“I think social media pushes give students a chance to really see what issues other students are facing on campus and the problems everyone should be aware of,” Stough said.