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Viewing computer porn can mean penalties, dean says

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Viewing pornography at Colorado State University-Pueblo might have consequences for offenders who refuse to abide by university policies, said Rhonda Gonzales, dean of CSU-Pueblo’s library.

CSU-Pueblo Library’s Computer and Internet Use policy does not specifically prohibit viewing pornography; instead it refers to provisions in state law as well as the university’s Sexual Harassment Policy and Student Code of Conduct.

The Library’s policy states, “Anyone who fails to comply with the conditions of the policy will be subjected to recourse appropriate to the rule or law broken.” Library staff members have the right to call campus security or the Pueblo County Sheriff’s Department to remove offenders from the library, the policy states.

The issue is generating mixed reactions from faculty, staff and students who believe college is a marketplace of ideas protected by the First Amendment. Some people believe they should be able to access any information they choose, provided it is done within legal limits.

However, other people have said computer porn has no place at CSU-Pueblo or any institution of higher learning.

“Despite their personal convictions, people need access to information when researching a topic,” Gonzales said. “As such, libraries resist censorship in an effort to provide open access to information. Because of this, students are allowed to access images and information some people might find offensive.”

CSU-Pueblo doesn’t have a policy that prohibits computer lab users from viewing porn on campus computers, Gonzales said. However, the Library’s Computer and Internet Use policy states that using computing resources is a privilege that should be used in accordance with university policies, and local, state and federal laws.

Viewing certain illegal types of porn covered by state law is one example, Gonzales said. If an employee suspects a student is viewing illegal images, she said, the library can call the Sherriff’s Department to report it, and the person could be charged with a criminal offense.

CSU-Pueblo’s sexual harassment policy states that you are entitled to work in a hostile-free environment. Additionally, viewing and posting porn in public venues violates the sexual misconduct clause of the CSU-Pueblo Student Conduct Code.

Community residents, not students, are the biggest offenders of computer porn viewing, Gonzales said. Part of the library’s mission as a state-funded public educational institution is to serve the community, she said, and CSU-Pueblo’s library doesn’t have authority to turn these offenders over to the Student Life Office.

However, the library would not hesitate to enforce this policy if the offenders are community residents, Gonzales said.

“We would tell the offender they might be violating the university’s sexual harassment policy by creating a hostile environment for other people,” Gonzales said. “We would explain that we will have to report them to the Affirmative Action Office on campus if they continue and we receive any complaints. The offender usually leaves the library at that point.”

Filters designed to block certain information also present problems, Gonzales said. Federally funded school and public libraries with children’s areas are required to use these filters; however, most CSU-Pueblo students are adults, she said, which is why the university doesn’t require filters on its computers.

“Filters can block out needed information,” Gonzales said. “For example, a student seeking breast cancer information might be denied access to research material if the word ‘breast’ is filtered out. Therefore, the entire Internet is open to everyone.”

In addition to the library, the Diversity Resources Center also is equipped with computers on which students can view porn. However, LaNeeca Williams, who is director of CSU-Pueblo’s Affirmative Action/Equal Employment Opportunity and Campus Diversity, advises against it.

As with the library, there is no policy governing viewing porn in the DRC, Williams said. However, viewing porn there could lead to an unwanted or hostile environment, she said. This means it isn’t considered sexual harassment unless the offenders’ behavior affects your work-study job or if an adverse action has occurred, Williams said.

When this happens, she said, the student must tell the person viewing the porn that the material makes them uncomfortable.

“If a student feels uncomfortable, this could set up an unwanted or hostile school environment which is against the university’s policy on sexual harassment,” Williams said. “I would ask a student to stop viewing porn if the material made another student uncomfortable.”

To date, this has not been a problem for the DRC, she said.

However, two female students, who asked to remain anonymous, said it is a problem in the library where male students frequently gather around sexually explicit videos. Both women said they were once told to “f— off” after asking three male students viewing porn to move to another computer. Believing the librarians would do nothing, the women left the library.

Gonzales said she would have told the male students to leave the library had the women told her about the incident.

“I would have asked, (the males), ‘Do you realize you’re violating the student conduct code and can be penalized?’” Gonzales said. “I also would have asked, ‘Do you know we can file a complaint with Student Life?’ They probably would have left at that point.”

However, Yuan Long, who is an assistant professor of computer information studies at CSU-Pueblo, said students should not be allowed to view porn on campus at any time.

“There are universities making rules such as blocking certain websites or penalizing students, staff and faculty for downloading porn movies using campus computers,” Long said.

“Sometimes it is not so much about the argument of right or wrong, it’s more about if we have certain rules out there to follow.”

However, Stig Jantz, an undergraduate adviser with the Hasan School of Business, said he believes in freedom of speech and access to information, and doesn’t mind students viewing porn on campus computers.

“I do, however, believe university employees should be prohibited from viewing and searching for porn on campus computers, which are state-owned property and designated for work use only,” Jantz said. “I also believe online shopping by university employees should be prohibited.”

Barbara Painter, who is an executive assistant to the CSU-Pueblo provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, said using campus computers to view porn is inappropriate unless it is for research purposes.

Viewing pornography, Painter said, is usually a personal activity, and is not a part of someone’s job description or academic assignment. She also said viewing certain sites, such as those containing child porn, could result in sexual harassment claims.

“It would be important to make certain Information Technology Services is aware that a student or faculty member is viewing these sites,” Painter said. “Viewing porn on campus computers may cause embarrassment or discomfort to colleagues or students. It could be a violation of individual rights, particularly those who don’t wish to view.”

Tamra Axworthy, 30, a junior majoring in biology and an administrative assistant with the Music Department at CSU-Pueblo, said students should not be penalized for viewing porn on campus computers. She also said it’s no one’s business what students do in their dorm rooms.

“I don’t think the university should limit students’ Internet access,” Axworthy said. “It’s difficult to get research done when sites are restricted in such a way.”

CSU-Pueblo might one day adopt a policy on when and where pornography can be shown on campus, Williams said. However, few universities have tried this, she said, and adopting such policies present unwanted legal and logistical challenges.

“I suggest student’s not view porn on campus unless it is directly related to their education,” Williams continued. “Otherwise, they could potentially set up an unwanted hostile environment for other students, and a complaint.”

The library’s Computer and Internet Use policy states that people should demonstrate respect for individuals’ right to privacy and freedom from intimidation or harassment. The policy encourages patrons to be sensitive to the fact that some on-screen images, sounds or messages create an atmosphere of intimidation or harassment for others.

CSU-Pueblo respects people’s privacy, and access to information and free speech, while creating an appropriate research environment, Gonzales said. In the end, students must decide when and where to view porn, and accept the consequences of their actions, she said.

“A library should be a place you can go without feeling embarrassed or (having) someone look over your shoulder,” Gonzales said. “We take steps to respect people’s privacy; however, there is only so much we can do.”

To learn more, contact Gonzales at 719-549-2315, rhonda.gonzales@colostate-pueblo.edu, or Williams at 719-549-2210, laneeca.williams@colostate-pueblo.edu.


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