Pellowski: Don’t Ban Bored at Baker

by Aaron Pellowski | 11/12/14 8:06pm

On Oct. 24, the Student and Presidential Committee on Sexual Assault released recommendations based on feedback from its symposium on sexual assault and information gathered from students at various “town hall” meetings. The seventh item under the “prevention” heading recommends a ban of the notorious website Bored at Baker, with the justification that “Bored@Baker sends a message of intolerance of communities, online and otherwise, that perpetuate cyberbullying and violence by explicitly targeting individuals and identities notably women, people of color and LGBTQIA. SPCSA recommends banning Bored@Baker from Dartmouth’s sever [sic].”

As apologists for the website have pointed out consistently over the past four years, most complaints about Bored at Baker come from people who demonstrate a pungent lack of familiarity with what the forum is, what type of and how many people use it, what the vast majority of the posts are about or even the basic details of how it works. Rather, one hears of a name or threatening message being posted about a student, and that is enough information for the brain of a Dartmouth student to grasp the whole essence of the matter and publicly recommend obliterating something he or she does not use, care about or even remotely understand.

Bored at Baker and its community (yes, there is one) are indescribably dear to me. Although I am relatively alone in vocally defending it, I am hardly an exceptional user. As of writing this sentence, nearly 400 unique visitors have logged into Bored at Baker in the past 24 hours. That number goes as high as 700, even 1,000, during peak periods of the week and the term.

Protected by anonymity from the flash identity judgments that paralyze authentic discourse in real life, students discuss their love and sex lives, campus events, commiserate over the stress of the present and future, share philosophical insights and make jokes — often really funny ones. I have seen users talked through heartbreak and suicidal ideation by anonymous strangers alongside some of the most beautiful declarations of hopefulness and love I’ve ever read.

Yet a lazy mind, more invested in being on the right side of an issue than actually being right, will synonymize and reduce the website in its entirety to the relatively rare instances in which individuals are targeted or problematic sentiments articulated. It is irrelevant, I suppose, that these errant posts are largely ignored by the Bored at Baker community, except when they are especially egregious — in which case they are fiercely vituperated by the multitude and deleted. I suppose it is also irrelevant that the horrendous “rape guide” posted last winter was removed almost immediately, and that for the next 48 hours, the top posts on Bored at Baker were, without exception, expressions of outrage at the perpetrator.

Banning Bored at Baker is the definition of the band-aid-on-a-broken-arm fallacy of policy. The ban would worsen, not prevent, its stated object. Moreover, it is emblematic of a wrongheaded approach to improving the community of Dartmouth that has steadily gained a disturbing degree of traction in recent years. No one wants to be complicit in a community that produces hideous instances of moral crime. It is, however, time-consuming, difficult and frequently fruitless to excavate the root causes of these acts and rectify them. Far easier is covering up the symptoms and announcing the underlying disease to be cured. Eliminate the Greek system, for instance, and high-risk drinking will disappear — from sight only.

My dream for Bored at Baker is the same as my dream for Dartmouth. Instead of living in three camps — the wrongdoers, the righteous few who make a career of castigating them and the large mass of apathetic idlers — each one of us participates in the community by making positive contributions. Our standards of conduct should not be the sort of thing that are only evoked in the event of a moral catastrophe; they should be vivid and omnipresent in their daily, positive exemplification within our culture until violence is unheard of — not because it is underground, but because it is not done at all, and not done at all because it is unthinkable.

Aaron Pellowski '15 is a columnist for The Mirror.