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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The Katzwer’s Out of the Bag: Can schools police our Internet activity?

Published: January 26, 2012
Section: Opinions

How much power does a school really have over what you do at home? Should a school be allowed to police your online activity or is doing so an impingement on your right to free speech? Schools have been struggling with these questions for years, since even before the Internet.

One school recently has been asked these questions and it has answered that, yes, a school has the right to punish students for extracurricular activities done outside of school. Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, N.J., recently expelled their four-star cornerback, Yuri Wright, for posting sexually graphic and racist tweets. Wright is the 40th-ranked player on the ESPNU 150 and was being scouted by many top university football teams.

The high school senior’s tweets and resultant expulsion caused some of the schools, including the University of Michigan, to drop him like a particularly nasty hot potato.

A lot of people are criticizing Don Bosco for expelling Wright when his online activity has nothing to do with his academics or his school extracurricular activities. These people argue that a few inappropriate tweets should not ruin this boy’s promising future.

I completely disagree. Yuri Wright has no one to blame but himself. How often do kids need to be told to be careful about what they post online before the message will sink in. It is not as if the expulsion came out of left field either. Wright was warned by his coach to stop posting such vitriolic content to his Twitter because it reflected poorly on both Wright and the school.

Additionally, Don Bosco Prep is a Catholic high school; having attended the school for more than three years already, Wright should have known that the school’s administration would not respond favorably to his sexually explicit tweets about being sexually frustrated and needing to get some action.

And, before I go any further, I want you to know that if you are perusing this column in the hopes of reading Wright’s actual tweets, you will be disappointed. I will not reprint that corrosive trash that Wright posted for the entire world to see. The content of his posts was offensive and the words used were foul. If you really need to know what he wrote, you can just Google “Yuri Wright tweets”; that’s what I did.

After ignoring the school’s warnings and continuing to post these messages, Wright showed a ridiculous disregard for his own well-being. He knew what the consequences would be and he did not care. So why is everyone pitying him and saying the school acted too harshly?

Had the school not followed through on its threat and expelled Wright, the administration would be seen as impotent, both by Wright, who would have undoubtedly continued to post more and more hateful comments, and by the rest of the student population, who would have lost all respect for their educators and would have followed in Wright’s unacceptable footsteps.

High schools are tasked with educating and protecting teenagers, and that protection needs to be from the dangers of the world as the well as from the students themselves. Teenagers are notoriously impetuous, often acting before thinking as they struggle with the complex mix of emotions that occurs as one matures.

This is why high schools come equipped with administrators, teachers, counselors and, in Wright’s case, coaches. These people strive to educate and guide their young charges, advising them on the shoulds and should-nots of adult life.
Unfortunately, teachers are not all-powerful and cannot simply make something happen by wishing it. They need cooperation. Wright’s teachers tried to instill in him a healthy perspective on Internet accountability but he refused to heed their warnings. There is only so much any one person can do when they are being ignored.

Expulsion was Don Bosco Prep’s only remaining option.

Teenagers, and everyone else for that matter, need to be aware that the things they do on the Internet will always be there and there will be consequences. Of course, those consequences may manifest years after the initial infraction, when the person is applying for college, or a job, or running for political office.

You never know where life is going to take you and that is why you need to take the time to think before you click “post.” Before you post anything, stop and ask yourself, “Will there ever be a time in my life when I won’t want this photo or message or whatever else to be associated with me? Can this ever harm me?” If the answer is not an immediate “no,” you probably should not click “post.”

Since many of these consequences come much later in life, Don Bosco Prep needed to show Wright some immediate consequences. He needed to know that his Internet activity is not confined to the Internet and that it does have bearing on the real world.

Now, all the people who are bemoaning Wright’s ruined future clearly did not hear the news that Wright will be playing football for the University of Colorado Buffaloes next year. Hopefully this experience will have taught Wright his lesson. If not, I suppose we’ll be seeing some articles in four years about how the NFL just drafted the new Ben Roethlisberger.
But you can be more than a name synonymous with imprudent Internet posts, Yuri; you can be a great athlete and a great person because you are still young and have the ability to learn from your mistakes.