Avert Your Eyes, Child

A letter to the editor

So there I was, browsing the net, when out of nowhere, I'm blocked. I was trying to read an article about a woman who regretted waiting until marriage for sex. Perhaps that's a tad promiscuous. The filter told me that it was blocking the site because it contained adult themes. Perhaps we shouldn't be learning about things like this. Or not.

This event angered me. Why can't I, a grown man, read an article? An article, mind you, that was cited in the Clocktower. Why mention an article I'm forbidden from reading? That's what I set out to learn.

Through the Information Systems (IS) office, I learned the technical side of the filter. Union College employs OpenDNS, which functions primarily as a firewall to protect users on campus from malware and viruses. The company also offers categorical content filtering. There are more than 50 filtered categories, including nudity, weapons and alcohol.

OpenDNS categorizes websites by letting users vote on sites’ content. After someone votes, OpenDNS either confirms or denies the categories. Some of the sites have no votes and therefore are not categorized, remaining unblocked.

Some of these sites were categorized over six years ago. Things change. Take The Learning Channel, for instance. Founded by NASA and the Departments of Education, Health and Welfare, the channel originally showed educational programs. Now it sports shows like “I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant,” “Toddlers in Tiaras” and “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.” The Internet changes at a pace much faster than television, and several websites have categories that no longer apply. This still didn't explain why these categories were blocked in the first place.

My hypothesis was bandwidth conservation. However, my talk with Richard Henriques, director of IS, revealed that initially our school was told that by blocking the pornography, Internet usage would drop by up to forty percent. When we did initiate our filter, astonishingly, the usage went down by single digits. Apparently Adventists hold themselves to a higher moral code then the secular world, even without "big brother."

Which is fine. All of this is fine and good. Sure, block the porn. It's a temptation. Yeah, block the file sharing. We don't need the FBI showing up here tomorrow to shut the school down. Union rules are law here, and an enforced moral code is fine by me. What I don't understand is the banning of adult themes.

Adult themes often discuss sexuality, addiction and violence, but don't show them explicitly. To put it simply, adult themes are topics not suitable for children. This is a college, and we are not children. We pay to come here and study adult themes. Think about ethics class, human sexuality or history class, which is pretty much the story of how the white man killed and/or raped everything. How can we be expected to graduate from here and make decisions in an adult world if we aren't allowed to explore adult themes? Without a comprehensive view of adult themes, then adulthood itself is just a word. I want to have the wherewithal to be able to talk about the rates of sexual assault in the military. I want to be informed about the genocide in Darfur. I want to read opinions about abstinence and sexual orientation. I want to have an opinion about struggles with addiction.

Currently, I can read about all these subjects online through news outlets, but when it comes to personal stories—the articles written by people, not professionals—they're all too often blocked, and I don't think they should be.

Kevin Niederman