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Cmsru Admissions Essay

By Sarah McLaughlin October 6, 2017

Last winter, Cooper Medical School of Rowan University punished a student for appearing topless in one of her Instagram posts. The student’s photo — taken on a European beach where nudity is legal — included a caption supporting the #freethenipple campaign. After chiding her for the comments posted by others on the photo, an administrator even suggested the student ask her fiancé for a “second opinion” before posting pictures in the future.

Today, FIRE sent a letter to CMSRU to acknowledge improvements made to the CMSRU Social Networking policy under which the student was charged, and to address how the policy could be further improved to better protect students’ rights.

FIRE first wrote to CMSRU in May to challenge the filing of a “Professionalism Intervention Report” against a student in response to photographs posted to her personal Instagram account and comments she made on social media prior to matriculation. The report stated:

It has come to the attention of the Office of Student Affairs and Admissions that [a] CMSRU student, has violated the CMSRU Social Media policy, by posting sexually explicit photos on the social media forum, Instagram. In one specific photo, [the student] is wearing the CMSRU White Coat, in front of the MEB CMSRU backdrop, representing CMSRU. Commentary associated with the photo, has been determined as leading and inappropriate. The CMSRU photo is associated in a posting collage of other sexually explicit photos posted to this forum. The posting of any explicit photos of a sexual nature associated with a CMSRU medical student on a social media forum, such as Instagram, has been deemed by the Office of Student Affairs and Admissions as unprofessional conduct of a non-academic nature, according to the tenets of the CMSRU Social Media policy and Professional Conduct (Non-Academic policy). This infraction serves as the foundation for this Intervention Report. This is not the first incident of unprofessional behavior regarding social media for which [the student] has been counseled by CMSRU administration. CMSRU administration was contacted by an outside source regarding [the student]’s commentary on social media posted in the summer of 2016, prior to her matriculation.

Last January, in a meeting with the student, Chief Student Affairs Officer Marion Lombardi and Assistant Dean for Student Affairs Erin Pukenas explained that CMSRU officials were most concerned about two images that could be seen together on the student’s Instagram home page: in one photo, the student was wearing her CMSRU white medical coat; in the other, the student was topless on a beach in Europe. In the second photo, the student’s nipples were blurred to comply with Instagram’s policies, and accompanied by a caption expressing appreciation for the beach’s policy allowing nudity and a reference to “#freethenipple,” a popular social media campaign to end perceived bias against the display of women’s nipples.

During that meeting, the student was chastised for comments other Instagram users had made on her photo, including “hottest doc.” While Lombardi conceded that the student hadn’t written these remarks, she stated “that’s still up for people to see. That’s a leading, inflammatory comment.” The student was told to review her account and remove any photos that a “reasonable person” could perceive as “sexually explicit.” The student was also warned that if multiple professionalism reports accrued in her file like the one she received for her social media use, they “could make it actually into [her] dean’s letter when [she is] applying for residency.” Pukenas and Lombardi then explained that the CMSRU social media policy was “kind of broad” and “more vague in general” “[b]ecause you can’t get into every specific.”

In a follow-up meeting, Director of Professionalism Carolyn Bekes also referenced the “hottest doc” comment and expressed concern that the comment associated the picture with CMSRU. Bekes then pointed out an Instagram photo that she considered to be “pretty innocuous,” and asked, “How did it provoke some of these comments?”

Near the end of the meeting, Bekes made a “suggestion” that the student “stop posting.” She also recommended that the student ask her fiancé for a “second opinion” before posting or that she speak to someone who is “more middle of the road” or “more conservative” to help keep “out of trouble” by helping her “censor it.” As punishment for the infraction, Bekes assigned the student a PowerPoint presentation on social media and professionalism in medicine.

FIRE wrote to CMSRU on May 9 to call on the university to revise its social media policy and abandon its practice of punishing students for engaging in constitutionally protected expression online. The policy stated, in part:

  • Display of vulgar language or potentially offensive language is not permitted.
  • Display of language or photographs that imply disrespect for any individual or group because of age, race, gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation is not permitted.
  • Posting personal photographs or photographs of others that may reasonably be interpreted as condoning irresponsible use of alcohol, substance abuse, or sexual promiscuity is prohibited.
  • Posting of potentially inflammatory or unflattering material on another individual’s website, e.g. on the “wall” of that individual’s Facebook site is prohibited.

FIRE’s letter explained that CMSRU’s Social Networking Policy impermissibly prohibited a wide swath of constitutionally protected speech, rendering the policy overbroad on its face.

The letter went on to point out that CMSRU’s prohibition on “condoning . . . sexual promiscuity” was not just unconstitutional — it was inapplicable in this student’s case. It’s quite a stretch for a university to claim that a topless photograph accompanied by a caption celebrating body positivity and weighing in on the #freethenipple movement is promoting sexual activity at all, let alone promiscuity, however defined. As we wrote:

CMSRU cannot hinder students’ ability to engage in important discussions—like those surrounding women’s rights—by claiming that they are “condoning sexual promiscuity” in doing so. In fact, CMSRU’s response to the photo illustrates exactly what [the student] and others are advocating: women’s ability to engage in public activities topless without the act being perceived as sexual. Medical school administrators should understand that female nudity is not necessarily an allusion to sexual activity.

FIRE’s letter also addressed the inclusion in the Professionalism Intervention Report of “[c]ommentary associated with” the picture that was “determined as leading and inappropriate.” As FIRE explained, the comments referred to in the report were actually posted by the student’s Instagram followers, and could not be used to justify her punishment:

If [the student] is to be held responsible for these comments, it can only be because she failed to delete language contributed by third parties or because the university believes that she should be held responsible for receiving such commentary. The former is barred by federal law and the latter is morally reprehensible. CMSRU must rescind this statement from the report. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) generally prevents the government from holding a person or company liable for content submitted by third parties. The law provides that “[n]o provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” 47 U.S.C. § 230 (emphasis added). In other words, a content provider or internet user who creates or maintains a forum where others can provide content has absolute discretion on whether to moderate, delete, or post content submitted by third parties.

[ . . . ]

Leaving aside whether CMSRU administrators are aware of the CDA, let alone its application here, it is alarming that a public university would seek to hold a student accountable for the words of others. Administrators should not be interrogating students to explain why what they themselves characterize as a “pretty innocuous” photograph “provoke[d] some of these comments.” Public universities cannot— especially during disciplinary meetings—ask students to answer for others’ speech.

Finally, noting that the student’s comments on social media made prior to matriculation were mentioned in her professionalism report, FIRE reminded CMSRU that administrators “cannot retroactively punish, nor list as part of a series of behavior that can be punished, speech made by students prior to matriculation and before policies governing their behavior were in effect.”

In June, CMSRU informed FIRE that the policy would be reviewed. We are pleased to see a new policy in this academic year’s student handbook, as we explained in today’s letter. Most notably, CMSRU removed the troubling language targeting “potentially offensive language,” “personal photographs or photographs of others that may reasonably be interpreted as condoning . . . sexual promiscuity,” and “[p]osting potentially inflammatory or unflattering material on another individual’s website.”

However, today’s letter also offers a few recommendations to further improve the policy. First, and most importantly, CMSRU should clarify whether its policy is a guideline or a requirement. At present, the policy first states that it intends to show students “what [is] discouraged and what appropriate social media behaviors are,” but then proceeds to define “professionalism” as a “formal requirement for CMSRU” students.

FIRE’s letter then addressed the example scenarios provided in the new policy of inappropriate student social media use. In one example, “[a] CMSRU medical student writes in her blog, naming an attending physician who did minimal teaching and recommending that other students not take clinical electives with that physician.” The policy then warns that this is “inappropriate,” noting that “[l]egitimate critique of an educational activity is appropriate, so long as professionalism is maintained. There are more effective and less public mechanisms for relaying this type of information.” CMSRU should revise this policy so that an explanation of what constitutes a “legitimate critique” is defined. FIRE explained:

A policy or regulation is said to be unconstitutionally vague when it does not “give a person of ordinary intelligence a reasonable opportunity to know what is prohibited, so that he may act accordingly.” Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104, 108–09 (1972). Students encountering this policy are likely to be confused and uncertain as to whether their “critique” may or may not be considered “legitimate,” and—given that the term is left undefined and at the discretion of CMSRU officials—many may consider self-censorship rather than risk possible disciplinary action. CMSRU should be careful to ensure that students do not choose to stay silent on important issues affecting classmates and patients out of fear that they will be punished for speaking out.

Lastly, FIRE suggested that CMSRU reassess another example where “[a] CMSRU medical student wearing a CMSRU T-shirt is tagged in a photo taken at a local bar and posted on a friend’s Facebook page. The medical student is clearly inebriated.” After all, students cannot control who will post a photograph of them to the internet, so the policy effectively places restrictions on whether students can drink alcohol in public at all. Again, because the distinction between formal requirement and “guideline” is unclear, the university could use this policy to punish students who are simply tagged in photographs. CMSRU can suggest that students carefully manage their social media profiles, but cannot punish them for content they played no role in posting.

Ultimately, we’re pleased to see that CMSRU revised its policy to better protect student rights. FIRE hopes to work with the university further to bring its Social Networking policy, and any other policies implicating student speech, into full compliance with the First Amendment.

Schools: Rowan University

Community & Social Health: Service Learning

Service to the community is a core component of CMSRU’s mission and an integral part of the culture on our campus. All CMSRU students are required to engage in a minimum of 40 hours of service each academic year in community-based projects that support residents of Camden. This commitment not only reflects what we believe is a professional responsibility of those in medicine, but also, our belief that the community has much to teach students about what it means to provide compassionate, empathic, and high quality health care.

By spending time in neighborhood sites and engaging with Camden residents, CMSRU students directly observe and analyze social conditions and qualities of individual and community environments that can potentially drive behaviors and influence health status, health maintenance, treatment, and healing. As service learning, all students participate in small group discussion sessions and complete reflections essays to consider their community experiences as they develop their personal approach to healthcare delivery, spending time in the Cooper Rowan Clinic (the student-run free primary care clinic), as well as their clinical rotations in the inpatient and outpatient settings.

As the landscape of the healthcare delivery system continues to evolve and change, we believe that addressing social determinants of health is increasingly vital in the delivery of effective care services. This component of the CMSRU curriculum is designed to not only train students on the variance and effects of these characteristics, but also to prepare students to uphold the commitment to service, advocacy, and excellence of care to vulnerable patients and communities.

Current CMSRU service learning program fall under the following service domains:

• Health/Social Outreach
• Tutoring/Student Mentoring
• Community Engagement
• Youth Activity/Fitness

Health/ Social Outreach

Cathedral Kitchen
A monthly opportunity for CMSRU students and staff to support Cathedral Kitchen's evening meal service to working families in Camden and others challenged with food insecurity.

Cooper Rowan Clinic Care Coordination
Students work and learn directly from social work staff at Cooper Hospital, then serve as care coordinators in the Cooper Rowan Clinic.

ESL Class at Center for Family Services
Teaching English as a Second Language to Spanish-speaking Camden residents with limited or basic English ability.

Sidekicks at CMSRU
Students are paired with a pediatric patients with life threatening or chronic health conditions to build relationships with their patient and support family members as they continuously seek treatment for their health conditions.

Street Medicine Outreach
Meeting weekly, this group ventures to various parts of Camden to provide basic necessities, social connection, and support to men and women who live on the street.

Volunteers have the opportunity to spend time on the pediatric unit each evening to be with hospitalized children who are alone.

VOICE: Veterans Outreach
Providing outreach and support to veterans of the Volunteers of America's Home of the Brave housing initiative.SERV: Services Empowering Rights of Victims
Trains students to be a part of the Sexual Assault Response Team, providing support and resources to victim seen in the hospital ER.Camden Prenatal Collaborative
Med students are paired with high risk prenatal patients to provide social support, encouragement, and advocacy throughout the term of their pregnancy.

Tutoring/ Student Mentoring

CAMP (Cooper After-School Mentoring Program)
Pairs CMSRU students with local college bound high school students to provide academic support and individualized mentorship as they manage the application process.

Science on Saturdays: Upward Bound for English Language Learners
CMSRU students provide support to the Upward Bound program, teaching science to students in the program. This service learning opportunity encourages medical students with formal teaching experience to continue to use their teaching skills, while also serving as an important resource to these students.

Primary Urban Partnership (PUP) at Wiggins Elementary School
The goal of PUP is to provide elementary school students early exposure to health professions. CMSRU students, faculty, and staff conduct bi-monthly sessions with 5th graders from Wiggins Elementary that engage students in health related subjects.

Primary Urban Partnership (PUP) at ECO Charter School
The goal of PUP is to provide elementary school students early exposure to health professions. The program with our partners at ECO Charter School uses a small group format to teach and engage kids in science related activities and lessons.

JUMP High Academy
JUMP is a Saturday program for area high school students who excel in math and science. The program's hands-on activities and interactive learning sessions expose students to applied science, and provide an overview of a variety of science and healthcare careers.

Tutor Time
Tutor Time is a student mentoring program that takes place in the Ferry Avenue Library, where med students provide help with homework, engage kids in activities, and build consistent relationships with kids and teens from the local neighborhood.

Brimm Medical Arts High School

CMSRU students are involved in assisting students at Brimm Medical Arts High School with science fairs, teaching special program modules, and teaching a bi-weekly health education class to 11th graders.

Community Engagement

Camden Green and Clean
Camden Green and Clean is a service learning opportunity in partnership with the Cooper’s Ferry Development Corporation and provides students opportunities to serve in neighborhood cleanups, community garden startups, municipal festivals and block parties, as well as tree planting events organized by the New Jersey Tree Foundation.

Cooper Sprouts Community Garden

The Cooper Sprouts’ Community Garden works with residents of the Cooper Square and Lanning Square neighborhoods, where CMSRU resides. Together with the neighborhood associations, medical students support the garden by helping with planting, maintaining, harvesting and distributing fresh produce at no cost to neighborhood residents.

Youth Activity/ Wellness

Camden Youth Soccer Club (CYSC)
The Camden Youth Soccer Club (CYSC) provides organized soccer instruction and games for Camden kids aged 4-14. CMSRU students serve as coaches for the 4-6 age group, teaching basic soccer skills, teamwork, self-esteem, fitness and social skills.

Steve's Club: Heart of Camden
Steve’s Club is a national Cross-Fit program that targets at-risk youth. The Heart of Camden chapter, run out of CMSRU, provides Cross-Fit workouts for local teens that are looking for a safe and nurturing environment to become fit and strong.

Girls on the Run
Girls on the Run is a physical activity based positive youth development program for girls in 3rd-8th grade. CMSRU's program operates in partnership with Wiggins Elementary and works with participating 5th grade girls.

Cooper Youth Arts Program (YAP)
The Youth Arts Program (YAP) was started in 2013 by CMSRU students with backgrounds in music, dance, and the visual arts, and an interest in bringing arts programming to Camden youth.


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