Wellesley College runs on email. I once made the mistake of forgetting my phone on my way to an 8:30 a.m. class, and by the time I retrieved it less than two hours later, I had already received 46 new emails. While some were useful, responding to inquiries I had made or alerting me to events happening around campus, there were also a handful that started with the dreaded phrase: “sorry for the mass email, but…” It is easy to become irritated when emails like this clutter your inbox and distract from the emails you actually need to address. There is an argument to be made that individuals who send emails to the entire student body should be more mindful of how they use this intrusive form of communication; however there are also next to no restrictions regulating this type of spam. Despite having a rather extensive spamming policy for organizations, the Senate Policy and Ethics Committee (SPEC) does very little to limit the type or amount of electronic spam that individuals can distribute to the entire student body. We need to expand our spam policy in order to more thoroughly address disruptive or excessive emails.
In many ways, SPEC’s spamming policy makes for informative and inclusive spam: it requires that all spam, both physical and electronic, meet the Wellesley College Honor Code and Copyright Policy and include an expiration date, point of contact and referral to accessibility resources. However, while this policy limits under-door spamming to College Government and its committees, it does not limit who can disseminate email spam. As a result,Wellesley students end up with inboxes that are often overcrowded with irrelevant emails.
Most students are all too familiar with campus wide lost and found emails. I understand that when students lose something of intrinsic or sentimental value they may want to distribute a mass appeal for its return. However, it is hard to believe that these mass emails actually make a difference. If someone has found a missing item, they hopefully would have attempted to contact the owner if possible, or have turned it in to a lost and found. If, however, they have decided to ignore the Honor Code and keep the item, a mass email seems unlikely to persuade them to do otherwise. There are also far less intrusive outlets for return of lost property; Wellesley College has a campus wide lost and found at the campus police station where students can take lost items and look for found ones. There is also a Wellesley College Lost and Found Facebook page that students can post on to spread awareness of these items. I propose making the use of these systems the standard operating procedure for the return of property and amending the spam policy to prohibit campus-wide emails of this nature.
While SPEC’s spamming policy states that students “are encouraged to use non-invasive forms of social media whenever possible,” there is no incentive to encourage the use of alternate platforms or discourage the use of mass emails. In addition to the lack of regulation, there are also conflicting policies that lead to further irritation. For example, only residential staff is allowed to email all the students in any given dorm. If residents want to email a lost property concern to the floor or building, they have to go to their Residential Assistant or House President. However, if members of the residential staff choose not to send the email at their request, deeming it more disruptive than potentially helpful, the concerned student can simply address their email to the student body in its entirely, thus avoiding a policy breach but also inconveniencing a much larger audience.
A second type of email that tends to crowd inboxes concerns individual student’s thoughts on contentious campus issues, such as controversial speakers or events. At times, these can lead to an extended chain of “reply all” emails that mimic the emotionally charged and unproductive comments sections on YouTube videos and Facebook posts. Though all students should have an outlet to express their concerns about important campus issues, mass email is not the appropriate forum to argue our individual opinions. Instead of hitting reply all to express our concerns or frustrations we should consider instead posting on our own social media pages or, if students want a larger or more Wellesley-centric audience, writing for The Wellesley News or one of the other on-campus publications. Shameless plug aside, these truly are more constructive and appropriate outlets to express and address concerns instead of putting them directly in every student’s inbox without invitation.
SPEC needs to implement a spamming policy that imposes reasonable restrictions on electronic spamming for individuals and organizations alike in order to ensure that those who send mass emails are respectful of their peers’ time. Wellesley could also benefit from a standardized format for subject lines to make the emails easier to sort through. I appreciate that clubs and faculty members send mass emails regarding events on campus or opportunities I might not have been previously aware of, as it makes me feel more in touch with my community. However, steps need to be taken to ensure that access to class mailing lists are not abused.