The Guild Sabbatical Officers have criticised the student body’s response to the closure of ExeHonestly, which they say ignores the “seriousness of racist and hateful actions.”
In a shared statement to Exeposé, the Guild Officers condemned the reaction to the page shutting down.
“We also believe that the response has also been misdirected; it has been to mourn the loss of memes, criticise the University for reporting hate speech, and to target individual students who first called out the hate speech, instead of facing the reality that we have hateful ideology on campus.”
The Guild Officers also addressed the launch of Exefess, a new anonymous confessions page.
“Whilst we are trying to tackle the issue of bigotry and fascism on campus, the creation of any new anonymous pages piggybacking on the events of this week before we have confronted and fully understood these issues is irresponsible and will jeopardise our efforts.
“We urge as many individuals and groups to work with us to tackle this issue and understand how we can better support anyone who has been affected and to stamp out fascism on campus.
“The reality for many demographics, and students known to us over this term, is that the platform has directly resulted in feelings of distress and vulnerability.”
The Guild Officers went on to reject claims that the anonymous ExeHonestly platform provided a good mental health advice service.
“The idea that a platform which allowed fascist opinions to be posted can claim to be an important service for all students’ mental health is problematic.
They elaborated: “It is also fundamentally dangerous for some vulnerable students to be using anonymous platforms to seek mental health advice when the administrators are not currently trained to deal with these serious problems.
“We feel students in crisis should be accessing the professional and confidential services already available to them through the University, Students’ Guild and established community health services rather than an anonymous platform.”
It is also fundamentally dangerous for some vulnerable students to be using anonymous platforms to seek mental health advice when the administrators are not currently trained to deal with these serious problems.Guild Sabbatical Officers
However, the Guild Officer’s new stance partially contradicts a statement that was published on the VP Welfare & Diversity’s Twitter account on 7 November. The post, which was published on behalf of the Guild Officer team, suggested that the page’s “perhaps life-saving qualities cannot be downplayed.”
The Guild Officers said “We are saddened by the events which have caused ExeHonestly to close. We appreciate students wanting a community platform and would’ve liked to aid this by offering support and training to ensure the platform was safe and inclusive.
“Since the weekend, when hateful messages were not spotted and let through by administrators, we have been in communication with the admins offering them support and opportunities to be trained in how to identify coded discriminatory language.
“As many students appeared in favour of keeping the platform open, we felt it was best to offer support, training and guidance instead of aiming for the closure of the confessions page. However, we respect their decision to prioritise their mental health at this time.
“Whilst the page has been removed, we have ongoing concerns that the attitudes held by those posting hateful and discriminatory messages still reside in our student body.
“We would like to address the need for students to have an open and frank discussion on racism and other issues, cited in an open letter to the university on change.org, by providing a facilitated time and space for them to do this.
“Guild staff have thorough Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion training. However, it is clear in the current climate, all members of the university community need to be empowered and vigilant in being able to call out signs of bigotry and fascism. Therefore, we will be exploring further, more comprehensive training. We will also be reaching out to the University’s Provost Commission to support the need for campus-wide cognizance on these issues”.
Less than 24 hours after ExeHonestly closed, another similar confessions page, named Exefess, started to post anonymous submissions.
There is currently no indication that Exefess have spoken to the Students’ Guild about receiving training to identify subtle Nazi codes and catchphrases.
In a statement published on 9 November, the Exefess admins claimed that “Any post with a cryptic message will be double and triple checked – anything that we are unsure of will not be posted at all.”
Exefess did not respond to Exeposé when asked if they would accept the offer of training from the Students’ Guild.
Opening and operating an anonymous Facebook page is not the problem. Posting racist and hateful content is the problem – and in the most recent incident a police matter. University of Exeter spokesperson
A University of Exeter spokesperson said: “The administrators of ExeHonestly and Exefess seem to have missed the salient point. Opening and operating an anonymous Facebook page is not the problem. Posting racist and hateful content is the problem – and in the most recent incident a police matter.
“Their own guidelines state: ‘Anonymity is not a pass for hate speech, harassment or any other violations of the Facebook Community Standards. Those confessions will not be let through’
“The administrators just need to follow their own guidelines to avoid investigation.
“Racism cannot be tolerated in any form in our community and if we obtain specific information about any of our students posting abusive or offensive content we will take immediate and appropriate action to ensure individuals are held accountable, including referrals to the police when required.”
In a lengthy statement published on 6 November, the ExeHonestly administrators announced their plans to delete the page, citing their poor mental health and an overwhelming workload as reasons.
“The University’s latest response has distressed us greatly and is another example of how out of touch they are with the student body.
They also noted how their struggle to moderate the page had already been noticed, with extended waits for approval and some posts being approved at 3am.
The statement continued: “For the University this is an issue of public relations, for us, it is an issue of our future livelihoods. Our team is terrified that our lives will be ruined if the university becomes aware of who we are.
On 3 November, ExeHonestly’s anonymous administrators approved several posts containing Nazi codes and catchphrases. At the time, the page was followed by more than 13,000 users.
ExeHonestly’s initial response, which was published on 5 November, claimed the administrators did not know about the number’s true meaning. They said “we deeply regret that they cleared our attempts at scrutiny and have made people feel unsafe.”
At the time of writing, Exefess has just over 3,300 likes.
Editor: Pete Syme