Almost a week before this year’s Student Council elections, two senior candidates posted a picture on one of their private Facebook accounts. Their names were written in bold letters above a photograph that was clearly intended to be humorous, showing two candidates in front of urinals in the high school bathroom. Black rectangles were censoring certain parts of the photo. The post gathered over 345 likes and a considerable number of comments.
On Sept. 2, right before election results were announced, two candidates – Matt Langlois and Sanjay Nambiar – were disqualified. The Facebook photo was cited as the reason for their disqualification from the 2015-2016 elections. Their personal posts on social media had prevented them from earning spots on this year’s council.
Out of the eight seniors running for Student Council this year, three were disqualified prior to or following the elections. According to multiple members of executive council, the disqualification of Matt and Sanjay occurred after the voting took place and the initial vote count will not be shared with the student body.
When students discovered the rationale for eliminating two of these seniors, a number of students expressed outrage.
Senior Nicole Cook is among the seniors who felt strongly about the disqualification. “It was just a harmless picture on Facebook, which was clearly a joke. I don’t think the school should be concerned with what we post online, especially if it doesn’t directly affect the community here.”
Matt shared his initial reaction, stating, “I remember looking through the rules and not seeing anything about campaigning online. [The sponsors] told me the poster was immature and reason enough for me to be disqualified.”
Both Ms. Murphy and Ms. Poluan, senior council sponsors, spoke to Matt 15 minutes before the election results were announced and gave him the news that he was disqualified. “I was kind of processing it at the time, but later on, I realized how unfair this was,” Matt said. “Having been in Stu-Co in the past, I found this to be a setback for my progression through high school.”
Poluan said, “We did not know of this until the morning of the presentations. [The poster] was brought to our attention by a student. This was mainly one of the reasons why we decided to disqualify the two students.”
One of the primary areas of concern among students is the overlapping of private social media posts with school elections. The picture of the candidates on Facebook was on the candidates’ private accounts, which had no affiliation to their official Student Council page.
“We were aware that this was on our private Facebook pages only,” Matt said.
On the other hand, Poluan stated, “There is a kind of appropriate behavior we expect. [Online posts] are the school’s business when you are running for student council.”
In an interview, Deputy Principal Doug Neihart discussed the grounds of the students’ disqualification. “Artistically, the poster is well-done, but I wouldn’t have approved that poster. It doesn’t meet the high school standards,” said Neihart. “I assumed it wasn’t posted around school because they had no approval, and I also assumed it was just for social media sites. But I was made aware that it was claimed to be an ‘unofficial’ campaign poster, tying it to the student council elections.”
In the comments of the photograph which were posted on Facebook, one of the two candidates used the term “unofficial campaign poster” in response to a friend’s comment. According to school administration, this was the deciding factor in their disqualification.
Neihart stressed that, “Once one of the candidates had said that it was an ‘unofficial campaign poster,’ it linked [the photo] to the campaign. I get that there was a humor factor, but I also know that somebody would get offended by that.”
Both Matt and Sanjay described the motivation behind their poster, emphasizing the overall positive response of their peers. “When I posted this photo, I wanted to use it as a vehicle to get more attention on our campaign,” Matt said. “The biggest goal was to get people to remember us. I thought that through this post I could achieve this, but my and Sanjay’s intentions weren’t to use it as an actual campaign poster.”
Sanjay agreed, saying, “We were trying to appeal to the audience, to maximize votes. The intent of the poster was not to disrespect anyone.”
Neihart said, “It’s an unfortunate situation; both are really, really great kids.”
Despite the response of students – a response which was largely in favor of the two disqualified candidates– the circumstances remain the same. When there is a gray area between public and personal life, in relation to the school, students may have difficulty navigating it.
“The walls between school and personal life don’t exist anymore. Students need to recognize these serious implications,” said Douglas Mabie, who teaches Media Literacy. “Anything they do or comment or write can be mis-contextualized in a million different ways. To pretend that there is a division between [private life and school life] is just pretending.”