Slut-shaming, Selfies, & Suicide: Librarians’ Role in Helping Students Build Healthy Identities & Communities

The human identity is a social one.

Suicide, seemingly the most personal decision an individual can make, is actually a social phenomenon. Durkheim, and sociologists after him, examined the ways in which groups and norms lead individuals (and groups) to behave in ways that ultimately harm their identity, community, and sense of self. The things we often take for granted, the stuff of life: norms, scripts, roles – give us a “social glue” to our community as well as a seemingly personal sense that we are “ok” being who we are.

Sometimes things are not “ok.”  Sometimes things are very wrong. Though resilient, people are fragile.

College (or more correctly puberty) is a time of new-found freedom, excitement, vulnerability, experimentation, successes, failures, surprises, disappointments, overloads, responsibilities, relationships, roles, and discoveries. School is a place where identity evolves.  College is also a time when the very stuff of life: norms, scripts, and roles are re-made and/or changed by younger generations.

For all our dismay at the current generation, this too, is a foreseeable social phenomenon.

Today’s students will have taken a selfie. They will have shared their most intimate mobile self-portraits across high-speed networks it what feels like the right thing, at the right time, to the right person. Are we wrong to think differently? It’s predictable that we’d have more dated norms. But, “hey,” you protest, their your personal opinions.

Yet for all our decision-making quirks, idiosyncrasies, cultural permutations, tastes, and neural circuits we are never far from the group in how we make sense of ourselves and the world in which we live, and how we judge those who come after us who have the gull to cast our norms aside and behave so uncouthly. Our very understanding of who we are is always in relation to others. Lest we forget.

But what happens when that selfie is passed around? When that student is shamed? When s/he is slut-shamed? What role, if any, does a librarian have in creating a healthy community for students?  Librarians have a role in making safe places for students and patrons. Librarians can make safe zones and discussions for outreach and community engagement.

I thought a lot about @sarahludwig who asked us to think of “librarians as access points” and I thought a great deal about the polemics @michael has set forth here and elsewhere. Acting as ethical access points for community engagement, librarians should responsively design services that address community needs in the area of wellness.

I don’t want our students to endure another Steubenville. I don’t want another Tyler Clementi jumping off a bridge in hopelessness. I don’t want our students to careen into depression, self-loathing, suicide, or self-destruction over a simple selfie. Nor do I want them to promote bullying or video shaming.

Satires, like the linked Huntington Post piece, add humor to the conversation. They make inroads to form a more global rebuttal that must be made against hypocritical viral shaming. Dignity, identity, community, and yes, life too are all on the line.

Today’s librarians are hyperlinked. So what’s our strategic plan for outreach to our hyperlinked patrons and students? Don’t we owe it to them to preemptively educate them? To tell them that guess what: selfies are OK! That the sting of slut-shaming will fade. That real friends, real community will embrace you. That self-refection, self-forgiveness are part of life’s journey. That throwing stones in glass houses is, and will forever be, unwise. That rape, degradation, humiliation should not be celebrated.

In a time when ironic hipster fails are “hearted” I ask you to be the voice of timelessness. I ask librarians to be forward-looking, not in terms of the latest technological adoptions and fads, but in the ways of citizenship, socialization, happiness, self-forgiveness, and overcoming adversity – wellness!

Our kids need us. We are on this planet together. Who wants to make a community engagement plan with me? Part school library, part public library, part college library.

 

5 thoughts on “Slut-shaming, Selfies, & Suicide: Librarians’ Role in Helping Students Build Healthy Identities & Communities

  1. Avatar of Michael StephensMichael Stephens

    Thank you for this!

    “Don’t we owe it to them to preemptively educate them?”

    YES YES YES. I listen to Dan Savage’s podcast every week and his ideas resonate with yours. The world would be a much better place if we could talk about this stuff more openly and with an emphasis on learning and experience, not “it’s bad, don’t do it.”

    Reply
  2. Avatar of Megan IngleMegan Ingle

    Great post! As I read, I kept thinking about the “it gets better project” (http://www.itgetsbetter.org/), and then I got to the comment from @michael and he mentions Dan Savage, who created the it gets better project in the first place. Yes to having the discussions, talking more openly, giving students a space to explore it, talk about it, learn from it, experience it, connect with others. Yes. Yes. Yes.

    Reply
    1. Avatar of Patrick Nunez RauberPatrick Nunez Rauber Post author

      @megingle & @michael thanks for the replies. I think that http://www.thetrevorproject.org/ has done well for focusing on lgbt youth as has it gets better. Yet, many straight youth have been assumed free of bullying around their sexuality, but things are turning out to be very bad. I think librarians can partner with places like the trevor project and anti-bullying orgs. to deliver outreach and have teens and students participate in building a holistic, responsive solution.

      Reply
      1. Avatar of Megan IngleMegan Ingle

        Agree whole-heartedly, sexuality + teenagers (regardless of what their identifed sexuality is) is an area where we can work alongside teens & students to build a holistic, responsive solution – I really like how you phrased that ;-)

        Developing & supporting an anti-bullying environment, which allows teens & students to discuss, share and explore issues like sexuality, suicide, mental health, physical health – all those things that are really critical to growing up healthy and which they may not have another space to talk about with non-judgemental adults.

        Reply
  3. Avatar of Rebecca SnowRebecca Snow

    Such a great post! My heart aches for my students as they learn to navigate these waters. I work at a junior high and I see the evolution of identity everyday. And I do believe you are right–these kids need us and it is our job to preemptively educate them. What a privilege (and responsibility) to be in a position help guide them!

    Reply

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