By Renata D’Aliesio
Ryerson received nearly as many email harassment complaints in the past three months as it did in all of 1995.
The increase surprises Wendy Roberts, coordinator for the university’s Office of Harassment Prevention Services. She received about eight complaints since November.
“This year we have been experiencing a new situation,” explains Roberts. “Harassing messages are being sent under someone else’s email address.”
Roberts does not know if there is more than one person sending the messages. She says as many as five people could be involved.
Robin Whittamore, manager of the Academic Computing Information Centre at Ryerson says it is quite easy to send a message under another person’s address. He does not want to disclose how the switch is done because it’s becoming a big problem on campus.
Ryerson has a group investigating the situation and has solicited help from outside companies.
“Our hope is over the next few months more can be done about this problem.” says Whittamore.
Most of the university’s email harassment has been sexually oriented, usually involving dirty jokes as harmless pranks. But Roberts believes the impact is more significant than the intent.
“Email harassment has destroyed friendships and interfered with some students’ ability to study and focus.”
The police have been called on two or three occasions for harassment involving death threats. Roberts recalls one incident where someone was using a Ryerson student’s password to send hate messages and instructions on how to kill individuals of a particular ethnics group to a person in the USA.
But these cases are rare says Roberts. Normally just a warning is necessary to stop the email harassment, but if it continues computer privileges can be suspended, he said.
Whittamore says 25 students had their privileges suspended over the past year because of email abuse. Suspensions vary in accordance to the severity of the problem. In an extreme case a student can be removed from Ryerson.
At the University of Victoria a student sued the institution for withdrawing his email privileges after he was found guilty of sending harassing messages. The student argued his right to free speech has been violated. The court disagreed and upheld the university’s right to set guidelines for email usage.
Roberts has a couple of tips for students who want to avoid email trouble. She suggests not giving out your password, making sure you log off when you leave the computer and ensuring the receiver will not be offended by your message.