Email filter hindered inclusion discussions

By The Beacon | April 3, 2014 12:59am

If someone shouts fire in a crowded theater, what is the proper response from authorities?

Is it to forbid all use of the word fire in the future, even for the purpose of discussing how best to avoid fire-related disasters?

Until March 19, all emails sent to UP email addresses containing the words “Redefine Purple Pride” or “RPP” were blocked by an Information Services filter. IS put the filter in place last spring after students associated with the Redefine Purple Pride movement sent two mass emails to faculty and staff urging them to speak out against the University’s Nondiscrimination Policy, which did not include sexual orientation at the time.

The University’s decision to block these emails shows a lack of respect for meaningful dialogue.

Now, we must acknowledge University Policy. In sending mass emails to University faculty and staff, students involved with Redefine Purple Pride did violate the University’s mass email rules. UP has a policy forbidding any group or individual from sending emails to the entire University community or any subgroups without approval from administrators.

But to categorize the Redefine emails as spam was disrespectful to students. The University’s mass email policy is mostly directed at unsolicited commercial email, chain mail and other obnoxious, irrelevant types of spam. Treating Redefine Purple Pride’s real, valid concerns like a pesky, get-rich-quick email was a disrespectful, invalidating decision.

And the email filter did much more than stop mass emails. By blocking these emails, the administration hampered meaningful, constructive discourse about the Redefine Purple Pride movement.

The purpose of the filter may have been to protect the community from mass emails, but a possibly unintended result was that individuals in the community could not discuss the movement whatsoever via email. Since the email filter was not publicized, any number of conversations about inclusion at UP may have been abandoned.

Throughout the Redefine movement’s activity last spring, both students and administrators were calling for open, honest discussion. In a letter published Feb. 21, 2013, President Fr. Bill Beauchamp said that “we welcome and encourage spirited debate.” Halting all discussion of Redefine Purple Pride on UP email addresses directly contradicted Beauchamp’s call.

Suppose a student hoped to answer Beauchamp’s call for spirited debate by emailing him personally about the Redefine Purple Pride movement. Beauchamp would never have seen the message.

Furthermore, the email filter made media coverage of the movement difficult. The email filter went in place as The Beacon was covering Redefine Purple Pride. One reporter covering the story was unable to send her drafts to the editors of The Beacon because the emails contained those blocked keywords.

Because administrators informed no one of this filter, we did not know why the emails failed to go through. The story was published on time, but the filter made our coverage of the event much more difficult. And whether it is intentional or unintentional, suppressing media coverage of controversy is unacceptable.

The administration’s neglect to remove the filter is also worrisome. When a Beacon reporter contacted IS in March to ask about the filter, they were unaware of it. The ban was removed only after the reporter brought the issue up.

Frankly, forgetting to take the ban off was irresponsible. Redefine Purple Pride was, according to some professors, the most significant student movement in decades. These students sparked the largest conversation about inclusion the UP community has had in years. To interfere with the discussion an entire year after Redefine’s mass emails demonstrates a lack of attention to student concerns.