An Open List in Every House
House lists should remain unregulated bulletin boards and casual discussion forums
With all this commotion, many have questioned the role of House lists within the House community. Ideally these lists should be unregulated forums and should serve as both virtual bulletin boards—with listings for events, opportunities and great deals—and as casual discussion groups where a range of pertinent topics, from great classes to the impending war in Iraq, from recent movies to black history, may be discussed. Most lists already serve both functions and constructively foster acquaintances between list members, alert members to House events raise awareness of current affairs.
Unfortunately, the recent actions on some House lists have threatened their viability as unregulated forums. That moderators in Eliot briefly shut-down Eliot-list after a student complained over the use of the word “slut,” for example, signals the possibility for greater regulation of lists to prevent what some deem as rude, threatening or insensitive posts.
But even in face of this threat, House lists should remain unregulated. Regulation, though well-intentioned, will no doubt inhibit list members from posting potentially useful, entertaining or thought-provoking e-mails for fear of warnings or removal. Also, as any regulation of House lists will always be unfairly subjective—it shouldn’t be any individual’s job to moderate. Besides, House lists are inherently self-regulating; when someone posts an offensive, asinine or ignorant e-mail, others on the list will likely ostracize this view with condemnatory e-mails or enlighten the issue with worthwhile e-mail discussion. And given the implicit aim of House lists—to improve House community—this inherent, existing means of regulation is the most effective and realistic.
House lists should include another, even more formative means of furthering discussion: BGLTSA and Race Relations tutors, among others, should freely post to the lists, especially in response to messages that are insensitive or misinformed. Rather than stifling debate, these tutors could utilize their specific awareness of a given issue to transform insensitive comments into a discussion or debate that can be an educational opportunity.
The list discussions, especially those in recent weeks, flooded e-mail boxes and incensed some list members. Despite these circumstances, students on House lists must recognize that they voluntarily signed up to receive these e-mails. As willing members, list-served students should not call for condemnation of injurious posts or regulation of lists, but should work within the free-speech framework of the House-lists to express their views on issues that upset them or question their own beliefs. Failing that, students unhappy participating within these guidelines can unsubscribe. Besides, most houses do have alternative, moderated “announce” lists and newsletters to alert students of events. Houses that don’t already have these moderated forums should offer them for students who would rather not participate in wider House discourse.
With any hope, list activity of late will reinforce the notion of House lists as sources of enrichment—not polarization. Any regulation, however, will prevent the former goal and ensure the later.