Get a few student affairs professionals together to talk about social media and inevitably the conversation will turn to Facebook and whether one should “friend” students on Facebook. Ed Cabellon posted recently on this topic (as part of a larger post on using lists on Facebook and Twitter) and had the following to say:
Yes, I “friend” my students on Facebook. I do is because I know how to leverage my Facebook lists to give my students access to only the parts of my Facebook page that they already know about me in real life or that I would talk about with them in person. . .This allows me to meet my students where they are, without compromising what I am willing to share with them online.
In an earlier post, I expressed a similar sentiment, writing:
My policy on friending students is similar to Rey’s [Rey Junco, that is — I was referring to a piece he’d published in USA Today] — I will not initiate a request (for the same reason I don’t send friend requests to people who report to me — the person with more power in a situation should not be the one to initiate a friend requests), but I will accept requests from students. Depending on the circumstance (currently enrolled in a course, graduated, student worker, etc., etc.), I will use different lists to manage what parts of my profile students can see.
Since then, however, I’ve changed my stance and have stopped putting students on a “lockdown” list (although I still wont’t initiate a friend request and can’t imagine ever changing that “rule”). I changed my position because I realized that I don’t have anything on Facebook that I wouldn’t already share with students in person (at least those I know well enough to friend on Facebook. If I don’t know them that well, I would deny the request). For the most part, the things I talk about on Facebook — my husband, my cats, feminism, my love for good food and wine — are things I talk to students about in person. The only difference is that I’m more political on Facebook than I am in class, especially since my politics are often not relevant to my classes (the dative case does not care if you are Democrat or Republican — just get the adjective ending right, please).
What I also realized was that I have always shared a fair amount of my personal life with students. That has been a very conscious decision — my goal in doing so is twofold: 1) I want them (especially the young women, but the men, too) to know that it is possible to be a professional and have a personal life and 2) I talk a lot about my marriage (again particularly for the young women, but for the men also) as I think it’s important that they see someone role model for them what a feminist partnership looks like. Now, does this mean I tell students every gory detail about our arguments? Of course not (but I don’t tell Facebook that either). What it does mean is that I talk to them about the division of household labor, how we handle finances, why I’ve decided not to have children etc. The things that people often don’t talk about, but that can really mess up your relationships if you haven’t thought about them.
The other thing I realized was that, despite all my talk about how I don’t see a distinction between my virtual and “real” lives (see here and here), I was making that distinction when it came to students in ways I otherwise wasn’t and figured it was time to walk my talk. Are there things that I would share with friends, family and/or colleagues that I wouldn’t with students? Of course. But Facebook isn’t the place to share those particular things anyway, so I’ve become a bit more discriminating about what I post there, which I think is probably not a bad thing. I also think it’s important to role model for students how to combine a personal and professional (not to mention feminist) presence online as this is something they will have to learn — and if I’m friending them, but not letting them see my page, that goal isn’t being met. I suppose if I had children or friends who posted awful things on my wall, I might feel differently. But for me, the right choice is to get rid of barriers between my virtual and real lives and just let it all be. What about you? Do you friend students? If so, how open are you with them?