“Do Better Chapman” Instagram Falls Silent After Revealing Controversial Accusations

Call-out culture on social media sparks debate and tension around the validity of online criticisms. Photo by Alya Hijazi.

The Instagram account allowed users to anonymously air their complaints about the behavior of Chapman staff, faculty and even students. Teachers were called out for racial and gender insensitivity. Staff was ratted out for being rude, hurtful and insufficiently responsive to problems.

But the account that was a source of gossip and speculation last semester has posted no new complaints since Dec. 14. Is Chapman doing better? Has the owner of the account graduated, left Chapman or lost interest in posting anonymous complaints?

“Do Better Chapman”, an anonymous Instagram page dedicated to calling out cases of sexual harassment and discrimination on campus, garnered over 500 followers since its inception in October 2018.

According to the biographical profile of the page, the account is an “open call for inappropriate, uncomfortable, or offensive experiences with Chapman faculty–new or old.” Contributors are promised anonymity.

In a series of messages with Prowl exchanged in November and December, the owner of the page refused to disclose their name, age, or major, but claimed to be a Chapman student.

“I am not afraid of anyone knowing who runs this page, but I prefer to remain anonymous because I don’t want credit for this collaborative effort,” the Instagram account owner said in a direct message (DM) with Prowl last semester. “I am not the author, merely the messenger for all the people who have wanted their experiences to be heard.”

The moderator of the account did not reply to three direct messages sent this semester inquiring about the account’s fate.

The moderator encouraged students to fill out a Google Form or send a DM to convey their negative experiences. The guidelines posted on the page’s Story Highlight states that the case “must be a Chapman institution related case,” such as faculty or a Chapman-related group, and that students should try to be “as specific as possible.”

However, many of the complaints are vague, and the identities of the people complained about are open to misidentification. “A journalism professor told me that I had ‘gotten bigger over the summer’ like I was a kid and told me repeatedly that I “looked terrible” in class,” read one post.

The owner said in a DM conversation with Prowl that they created the page after experiencing discrimination in the classroom, and questioned if other students went through similar experiences.

Some Chapman administrators questioned how they could remedy serious complaints if students fail to provide specifics regarding the staff behaviors that rankle students. They also question the authenticity and value of complaints made anonymously, as details can’t be substantiated.

“There are people on there who are absolutely embellishing and I don’t want to say making stuff up, but saying things just to be part of a social media platform,” Dean of Students Jerry Price told Prowl in November. “That’s going to be the smallest percentage, but I feel confident that there are people who go on intentionally with misinformation to make a bigger point.”

“Chapman takes reported incidents of sexual assault or discrimination very seriously. Exceptional resources are in place to support our students, and education is provided on how to engage these University resources when needed” said Vice President of Strategic Marketing and Communications Jamie Ceman on behalf of the university.

But senior kinesiology major Kenzie Saleh applauded the account as a way for students to feel supported without having their identities exposed.

“There might be embellishments, and honestly I wouldn’t know or take 100 percent of the posts for face value, but I don’t think people just make these things up.” Saleh said.

But why not lodge a complaint – anonymously or not – with specifics, to the appropriate university department so administrators can take action, if warranted?

“When students report a faculty member, nothing really happens,” the page owner said through a DM. “The page is meant for people to be heard, as well as to raise awareness for a huge problem on campus and hopefully enact change within Chapman,” the person wrote.

Departments called out in posts include Chapman University Wellness Project and C.A.R.E.S.–Creating a Rape-free Environment for Students.

After the CU Wellness Project was made aware of a post calling out their “Dress well, test well” poster for finals week, the account explained that the D.R.E.S.S. campaign–used to promote healthy habits during finals week—did not intended to dictate how to dress. The CU Wellness Project apologized in the same post and removed the posters.

One of the anonymous confessions called out C.A.R.E.S. by name, claiming that a coordinator discouraged the victim from pressing charges. “Welcome to my world, I deal with this everyday,” the coordinator allegedly said.

Dani Smith, Chapman’s C.A.R.E.S. coordinator and rape crisis counselor, said, “I want to empower survivors to make the choice that will be in their best interest. I tell them, ‘You need to do what’s best for you, and I will support you in any choice you make.’”

Sophomore film production major Olivia Fouser, a member of C.A.R.E.S., blames the Title IX procedures of the university for the student resentment and dissatisfaction.

“The Title IX system is extremely flawed. The cases can get dragged out so they could potentially last years, and even then the survivor isn’t likely to get the justice they hoped for,” said Fouser. “Dani Smith does her damndest to handle sexual assault cases as kindly and fairly as possible, and strives to get justice for the survivors, but often her hands are tied.”

Title IX is a federal law that states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance”.

The owner of the account acknowledged “C.A.R.E.S. does the best they can” but asserted that the administration could make further improvements in its response to students alleging victimization.

Price encourages students to reach out to the human resources department or the dean’s office if they want advice on the process of submitting a complaint.

“When we have substantiation that there’s a problem, and it doesn’t have to be a lot, we will respond appropriately. We’re not the court system. We don’t find people. In some cases, someone might lose a job if they do something egregious, but my point is we do look into it and we do take corrective action.” Price said.

Price questions the value of anonymous online complaints, as anonymity limits the ability of administrators to investigate.

“Every one of the ones I’ve read I take as true, but more in terms of a making a statement about a situation as opposed to an accurate portrayal of facts,” Price said. But anonymous grievances broadcast online are no substitute for lodging a formal complaint through conventional university channels. Doing that, he said, “could result in some outcome.”

Clara K. Magliola, the director of the women’s studies minor program, said students may resort to anonymity because they are afraid of confronting a professor, lest doing so affect their grade.

“It’s not enough to just say it to a friend, and so maybe doing it this way is helpful because there isn’t any other place for it,” said Magliola. “That momentum is not going to build and it may not come to that professor’s attention unless people know it’s happening frequently, and it’s not just an isolated incident. Maybe (the account) can fulfill that function.”

The creator of the page said students have told them that the page makes them feel less alone and has brought awareness to important campus problems.

“Change can be difficult to quantify, and has a subjective aspect,” said the owner. “Will this Instagram page solve all the problems of discrimination across the world? No. Does it amplify the unrestful voices of those who submit and those who follow–for those who follow participate just as much as those who submit? I would say so.”

Saleh appreciated reading those unrestful voices. But when the account became inactive, she stopped following it.

Alya Hijazi and Jillie Herrold

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