My faculty friends from Berea College mentioned to me that they would not ever ask students to be "friends" on Facebook. If a student asked them to be friends, then they would probably say yes. Other faculty members said that they would decline altogether to pursue online friendships with students.
I strongly agree that we should let our students approach us if they wish to be friends on a social networking site. Many of my former students have gotten back in touch with me through Facebook, and I couldn't be more delighted to learn about their jobs and their families. Sometimes I hear about illnesses, and that's important to know as well.
Some of the graduate students have "friended" me and I have said yes. These are people I like, respect, and feel friendly towards anyway.
I can see the downside, though--do we want to know so much about each other? What is appropriate to reveal, and what is unwise?
Recently I noticed one student who sounded really depressed on Facebook and so I did intervene there, to make sure that he was okay. I didn't care if anyone thought I was overreacting. I don't take chances with depression, not since a friend of mine committed suicide. I wish she had had a public forum to cry for help.
On the up side, I'm interested to see how the writers I know create more informal personae online.
But I don't want to know what's in the underwear drawer. Unlike Red Room, where we dwell on books, writing, and the writing life, Facebook has no center. It does not encourage depth, though one of my friends posts new poems there (Pamela Uschuk.)
So far I only have one undergraduate friend on Facebook, a young man who acted in a play in which I also had a role. Acting creates a sense of community and even family. The idea of more undergraduate online friends, though, makes me nervous.
To complicate the situation, my daughter is also on Facebook. She has informed me that I am not allowed to write on her Wall, as that scares away her friends. Okay, I've been warned!
Speaking of warnings, I'm reminding my students not to post anything that might come back to hurt them--in other words, to confide less. It seems like an intimate setting when one is communicating with someone else on their wall. But the illusion of privacy is only that. I've already lost respect for one student whose persona is that of a seductive six year-old on Facebook.
On the other hand, I invite all my writing students to visit Red Room. Lots to be proud of here! Being able to go into depth, to write personal essays of any length, promotes thoughtfulness and imaginative play, rather than an atmosphere of voyeurism.
Causes Marilyn Kallet Supports
Southern Poverty Law Center, US Holocaust Memorial Museum, ACLU, Amnesty International, Save Darfur.