May 3, 2013

Breaking Down Walls

By ANDY GOODELL The Oskaloosa Herald
The Oskaloosa Herald

---- — OSKALOOSA — They brought negative words from online into the physical world and broke them down.

On Wednesday, several William Penn University students enrolled in a Social Media class, broke down a pair of “walls” with hurtful language on them in an effort to shine light on the issue of cyber bullying. This was done as part of a project for the class, dubbed “Break The Wall.”

Cyber bullying includes the use of insulting or hurtful language via the Internet, especially on social media Web sites.

William Penn University junior Melanie Mackey presented information related to cyber bullying before she and others took turns breaking down the “walls” with hammers. This was done as part of a final project shared by several students for the class.

“Throughout the class, we talked a lot about social media and the Internet and how it’s growing and it’s becoming a really big part of our lives,” explained Mackey. “With all the great things that it offers, it also offers a lot of negative things.

With kids that grew up with it — our age group specifically — you see a lot of negative views, a lot of hurtful things being said and that kind of thing can lead to a lot worse consequences.”

Earlier this week, Penn students in the Social Media class visited Oskaloosa High School, as well as the Penn Activities Center, to find young people to write examples of hurtful language on the “walls,” said Mackey.

“We asked students to write things they’ve seen or said or heard,” said Mackey, adding that any swear words were written in “comic book style” using symbols instead of words. No actual names of people appeared on the “walls” either, said Mackey.

A Facebook page called “Break the Wall” was initiated by the Penn Social Media students, said Mackey.

“We invite people to post positive comments,” Mackey said. “It’s a good way to spread the love, as well as raise awareness.”

In reflecting on the project, Mackey said it was “powerful” for all involved.

“It’s just been a really eye-opening experience,” she said.

Matt Wagner, instructor of digital communication at Penn, said the Social Media class is now in its second year at the university.

Outside of cyber bullying, Wagner said students had the chance to learn about social technology itself, as well as how journalists and public relations professionals use it in the class. The idea of how social media can build community was also highlighted in the class, he said.

Regarding cyber bullying in general, Wagner said many of those who are the victims of cyber bullying experience severe depression because of it. Wagner said he believes technology makes it easier to bully and that, in a lot of ways, cyber bullying hurts more than face-to-face bullying.

When asked if people are more inclined to write negative comments online, rather than in person, Wagner said consequences of what is said play a role.

“You have that screen that separates you from actually having to deal with the consequences,” explained Wagner.

When it comes to the Break the Wall project, Wagner noted that it came about after students were assigned to create a social media campaign of their choosing. Wagner said he “was excited that they were motivated about something and that they wanted to do it.”


Herald City Editor Andy Goodell can be reached at news2@oskyherald.com.