MSU banning whiteboards due to bullying

Holly Fournier
The Detroit News

Whiteboards on dorm room doors have evolved from valuable tools of communication to ready-made vehicles for bullying, according to Michigan State University officials.

As a result, the university will ban the whiteboards from students’ doors this fall, in an effort to cut down on the number of negative, anonymous messages left outside dorm rooms.

“In any given month, there are several incidents like this. There was no one incident that was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said Kat Cooper, director of University Residential Services Communications. “Sometimes these things are racial, sometimes they’re sexual in nature. There are all sorts of things that happen.”

There has been no uptick in incidents, Cooper said. The ban is limited to hanging whiteboards on dorm doors; students will still be permitted to use the items inside their rooms.

Some students said banning whiteboards from doors is unnecessary.

“People are going to say things no matter what, whether it’s to their faces or on a whiteboard, it’s just something you can’t always control,” said Sofia Sokansanj, a university freshman.

She added that the boards typically are viewed as a way to encourage others and bring lightheartedness to the dorm.

Officials acknowledge that the ban likely will not dissuade people determined to leave harmful messages through other avenues. Instead, eliminating the boards is meant to address impulsive scribbles.

“These are mostly activities of opportunity. (Students) are walking down the hall and there’s a ready writing surface and a pen right there waiting for them,” Cooper sad. “These are not things, generally, where people are targeting people.”

The ban comes after a natural decline in the item’s popularity, Cooper said. Whiteboards used to serve as a way for students to communicate plans or relay messages, but now people have a world of social media, email and texting at their fingertips.

“I know that when I was in school, whiteboards were an essential form of communication with other students,” Cooper said. “It used to be that their (appropriate) usage outweighed their abuse, and that’s just not the case anymore.”

A Facebook post last week by the Lansing NAACP said a student recently had a racial slur written on her whiteboard. Cooper corrected a claim made in the post that all whiteboards would be removed this semester.

“We are not removing the ones that are already up,” she said on Monday. “They are personal, private property of students living in the rooms.”

Current housing contracts do not mention the new ban, so officials cannot compel students to remove the boards, Cooper said.

Going forward, the new regulation will be added to a summer list of dorm policies, Cooper said. Officials have not yet finalized how the ban will be enforced, but Cooper indicated the dorms’ resident advisers may participate in assuring whiteboard usage is limited to inside students’ rooms.

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Twitter: @HollyPFournier

The Associated Press contributed.