When Students Friend Me

When Students Friend Me

[Teacher friends: Feel free to adapt this and use it on your own syllabi.]

MY SOCIAL MEDIA POLICY: This course will introduce you to the ways in which social media will become a part of your professional writing life. For example, we will use blogs and Twitter to share information with each other and connect to other writing communities. I have multiple email addresses and social media accounts that I use in order to communicate as my various selves: the writer and teacher me, who is mostly very public vs. the wife/friend/daughter/sister me who is more private.

When you “friend” me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, you become a part of my professional network, not my private one, and I expect the same consideration from you. Consider your friend or follow request to be the moment you begin your transition from using social media for play and personal use to a more professional approach. You need to remember that your professors aren’t your friends; they are mentors and supervisors. They will write letters of introduction and recommendation for you. Over and over, you will need them to vouch for you. They are “connections” in the best possible sense of that word. As you prepare to enter the workforce, and especially if you want to be a professional writer, you must learn to separate private communication from public. It is incredibly unwise to “friend” your professors and then complain about your classes, assignments, or professors, as if you are only talking to your close friends. It is also unwise to use social media to passively-aggressively complain about a professor’s assignments or grades. In the real world, this sort of behavior might get you fired, or at the very least, might cost you a positive recommendation. On every recommendation form, I must assess your character, maturity, and discretion. Be appropriate at all times.

Before you send me that request, consider creating a profile or account that represents the Young Professional You, the Future You, not the High School You, Letting Your Hair Down You, I Feel Like Venting You.



  1. Geeta says:

    Love this, Cathy. I don’t accept friend requests from current students, so I might use this at the end of term, but I really like the distinctions you make here, and I think that all students–former and current–need to hear this.

  2. This is exactly the kind of problem Google wanted to solve with Google+. Not that I think discretion’s a bad idea at any time, but even for the (largely) professional among us, sometimes you want to say different things to different groups.

    Facebook has made that so hard with Lists, “New Groups,” and the interface for configuring permissions on a post-by-post level. The service was never meant for the awesome and productive professional uses people—especially writers and academics, in my experience—have used it for.

    All of which is to say, I guess, I hope Google+ and the ethos built in to its data structure both catch on; they might preclude your having to include a policy like this in the first place. (Not that you were complaining.)

  3. Dave says:

    Pardon me, but I completely disagree with this… social media are the equivalent of standing in the town square and shouting. They aren’t suitable for the purposes you’re talking about. If you want to maintain separate professional and personal online personas, that’s what blogs/websites and email (respectively) are for.

    And Google+ has already run into trouble because it tried to force people to reveal their real names instead of allowing them to create multiple online identities.

  4. Seth Fischer says:

    So … I ran across this on Facebook, of course, and I agree with this nearly 100%, but I have this nagging sensation that by teaching people to be “professional” all the time we’re doing ourselves a tremendous disservice. Yes, it’s unwise to complain about your teachers in your writing or to talk disrespectfully about your sex life, but will this also discourage students to veer away from writing well and with empathy and compassion about uncomfortable truths, on topics like sexuality or politics? The type of writing that the world really needs. It’s one thing to teach people to be smart about what they write, and it’s another to teach them to be totally risk-averse automatons that are only out for money and their own “professionalism.” I’m not accusing you of doing the latter, of course, but I just wonder. How do you deal with that?

    • Cathy Day says:

      Thanks for your thoughts, Seth. I want them to take great risks in their creative writing. I just want them to think about what they say on their status updates, which is, to me, a very different kind of writing. To me, the “social” part of “social media” implies society and manners and etiquette. Don’t even the fiercest writers and artists have to observe some of the social niceties? Ultimately, it’s really up to them to decide how to present themselves to the world. I just want them to know that that presentation DOES have an effect. [I feel like Emily Post now. Ick.]

      • Seth Fischer says:

        Yes, that’s true. It is different. I’m a writer, though, and much of my writing is published in online magazines, and I post it on facebook (otherwise no one would read it), where I have gained a following by posting some things that aren’t necessarily comfortable. Some might say that’s also being “unprofessional.” Some of my stories and essays have difficult subject matter, some of them have gotten me in trouble professionally. I would never undo them. And I think taking those risks has actually helped me.

        For example, in response to a NYTimes article saying (shock!) that bisexual men actually exist, I wrote, on top of that link: “Dear Science, Thank you kind sir/ma’am for finally agreeing that I exist. This lifts a big weight off my shoulders, for until this news came out, sometimes when I looked in the mirror, I would see parts of myself starting to disappear.”

        Was this wise, professionally, especially given that I’m on the job market right now? I don’t know. Probably not. I know that I lost 15 “friends” because of it. Again, would I ever undo it? Again, no.

        Anyway, I’m not trying to make this all about me, but I had to spend a good amount of time unlearning the idea that I should always worry first and foremost about the future and looking professional instead of being myself. I do hope, though, that in any course on social media, there is some discussion of the types of risks that might be wise to take. OR maybe not wise, maybe the word I’m looking for is right. A discussion of how social media can be used to transform the world by being honest, but wisely honest.

        • Seth Fischer says:

          Ha, yes, sorry. I see now that we agree, really (I had seen an earlier response before). Actually, I was thinking that maybe this would be an interesting thing to blog about. I blog over at The Rumpus on Sundays. Would it be okay with you if I did that? (With a link here and credit given, of course.)

  5. Cathy Day says:


    Of course! I think this is a conversation worth having–what does it mean to be online as a writer and human being AND a teacher/job applicant? Sometimes it’s so tricky. I’m really proud when the students I’m friends with on Facebook post about who they are, and I try to show support. What prompted my policy were what I’ll call immature, high school-ish, “venting” status updates.”My Such and Such class is soooo boring,” or “I wish my creative writing teacher would stop trying to hijack my story!” [and I am that teacher]. I don’t vent about my students on Facebook, so I really don’t appreciate it when they do. Ultimately, I totally agree with you that it’s important to be authentic as possible, and I am working with my students this semester on ways to professionalize themselves via social media. Many of them are doing it wrong, and I’d like to show them different ways to do it right.

  6. Cathy Day says:

    P.S. Perhaps I am not exactly the best person to teach them how to do it right, since I get it wrong quite often. I’m 43. I never IM’ed. I didn’t have a blog until a few months ago. I’ve spent the last few years playing social media catch up, learning a language and culture that maybe comes quite naturally to someone who is 10, 15, 20 years younger than me. But I really try, because I think that being online has become part of being a writer in the 21st century. Ten years ago, I taught my students how to submit to literary journals by showing them what an SASE was. Ha!

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