Leaked GroupMe Messages Result in Social Media Backlash

On the evening of Monday, November 14, a Facebook post containing screenshots of a private student GroupMe conversation’s controversial messages went viral, quickly amassing thousands of views and hundreds of online shares. Multiple students and alumni were quick to repost the pictures and respond with condemnation for the posts that some found offensive. 

Members of Colgate’s Brothers organization were the first members of the Colgate community to publish screenshots of the group messages. In their post, Brothers censored the names of the students who made the controversial statements in an attempt to keep them anonymous.

Brothers President junior Andrew Vallejos spoke on behalf of the Brothers Executive Board, and explained that the organization felt it was necessary to publish the messages, but that those pictures should be published without disclosing the names of the students involved.

“We published the screenshots because we felt the responsibility to let people know what people are saying on our campus. We wanted to call on our allies to step in and start calling out their peers for their ignorance and bigotry. We left the names out so as to focus on the language and not the individuals themselves,” Vallejos said. 

Vallejos also called upon members of the Colgate community to take a more active role in advocating for social justice on campus.

“Ultimately, we wanted people to realize that being an ally or an activist does not just mean showing up for manifestations on the quad or speak-outs,” Vallejos said. “While that is definitely one aspect of it, it more generally means standing up for other’s civil rights in all spaces you occupy. We wanted to let people know that we need to do this together.”

The second individual to post screenshots of the GroupMe conversations to Facebook was senior Clare Schneider. In her post, the names of those who participated in the group chat were not censored. According to Schneider, she publicly displayed these unedited screenshots, without prior approval from the individuals, in an effort to reveal  the identities of individuals whom she believed to be in the wrong.

“I had the opportunity to use my privilege to share conversations that exposed racism, sexism, rape culture and other bigotry behind closed doors,” Schneider said. “The[re] are structural inequalities that benefit a majority of people on this campus, myself included. Slurs and invitations of violence are not okay, and we hear that in the classroom, but studies have shown how much more effective peer education is. If we keep having conversations behind closed doors, we allow ideas to fester and remain unchallenged.”

Senior Natalie Munro, one of many students who saw the posts on social media, discussed her reaction to the messages. Munro, a Women’s Studies concentrator, is part of the department that was brought up in the published messages.

“I am deeply disappointed, but not surprised by what has been exposed,” Munro said. “The sexism, racism, classism and bigotry that has been revealed will not be accepted on this campus. In the pain and sorrow that is happening, I strive to be an ally, and that means acting and speaking out against injustice. Protests have been happening year after year on this campus and they won’t stop until it is safe for everyone.”

Sophomore David Zevallos was dismayed by the posts. According to Zevallos, the language and rhetoric used provided an opportunity for him to respond in a meaningful way.

“At a time of hate and bigotry around the country, our own Colgate community has proven itself to [not] be immune. Recent remarks made in a private, online conversation show that members of our community appear to feel empowered to attack, disrespect and frighten other students,” Zevallos said. “I believe that this is a time for each one of us to reflect on the values of tolerance, decency and empathy, and to speak up and speak out against bullying and bigotry.”

Junior Matthew DeLeo was one of the individuals whose messages appeared in the GroupMe posts. After seeing the reactions on Facebook from members of the Colgate community, DeLeo reflected on his words.

“I accept responsibility [for] my actions. These messages were meant to be in a private group chat, and I never intended to hurt anybody [with] my words,” DeLeo said. “I would like to offer my apologies to those groups that I have targeted and caused harm [to].”

Not all who learned of the circulation of these screenshots were pleased with its effects and implications. Students and alumni alike voiced their concern over private information being disseminated without the consent of the individuals involved. 

“I’m disappointed to see some students and alumni targeting [individuals] in this aggressive way,” Sirota said. “I don’t agree with what they wrote in their GroupMe, but I think the Facebook lash out is being blown out of proportion and turning into a campaign to silence opposing voices and to intimidate fellow students.”

Senior Alexis Beamon defended Schneider’s decision to publish the photos with the names included. 

“Social media is a way to hold people accountable and let them know that their actions and words are harmful to others,” Beamon said.

“This particular event was a way for the individuals involved to be held accountable and for the university to be held accountable publicly. I also think it showed the university that what they are doing to ‘foster diversity’ and make us ‘world class’ leaders clearly is not working,” Beamon said.

In addition to sharing the images on Facebook, Schneider has created a GoFundMe group for donations to be dedicated to Colgate’s Center for Women’s Studies and community organizations of their choice. Similarly, multiple alumni, including Evan Chartier ’14, pledged to donate a dollar for every time the Facebook post is shared. 

“As concerned (recent) alums and Women’s Studies majors, we pledge to donate one dollar for every time this post has been shared,” Chartier wrote on Facebook. “Half of the donation[s] will go to Colgate’s Center for Women’s Studies and half will go to the South Asian Organizing Center/Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), a multigenerational organization that builds the power of South Asian low wage immigrant workers, youth and families in New York to win economic and educational justice, and civil and immigrant rights.”

Since Chartier published his comment, Schneider’s Facebook post has been shared by over 600 people at the time of publication.

In an email to the student body, President Brian Casey expressed his concern for all Colgate community members. 

“I understand – and respect – that people wish to respond, or have responded, to the original texts and comments with fervent disagreement and dismay,” Casey said. “I also understand that those whose texts were reposted on Facebook have been subject to profound public criticism. This is a day of deep emotion and concern for many on this campus.”

Additionally, in response to the heavily circulated images, Colgate administrators, including Interim Vice President and Dean of the College Mark Thompson and Casey, sent multiple emails to the Colgate community to encourage constructive dialogue and productive social media use.