CHARLESTON, South Carolina (Reuters) - Social media and politics collided at a small South Carolina college on Tuesday evening as students censured their student body president over his Twitter postings bashing women, gays and African-Americans.
But they stopped short of impeaching student body president Ross Kressel, a 21-year-old from Marietta, Georgia, who posted profane and disparaging tweets.
The student government proceedings and Twitter trouble were both firsts for the almost 250-year-old liberal arts College of Charleston, according to Victor Wilson, the college’s executive vice president for academic affairs.
The school of about 10,400 undergraduate students has a campus in downtown Charleston studded with live oaks and historic buildings.
Kressel issued a written apology and said he considered the tweets private because the account, CofCPolitico, did not have his name attached to it. He closed that account but has a separate personal account under his name.
“I’ve never been more embarrassed in my entire life,” Kressel, a political science major, said after the hearing. “I‘m disappointed in myself.”
His actions prompted more than two hours of debate by the Student Government Association about free speech, privacy rights, political responsibilities, character assassination, professional standards and the college’s reputation.
Students invoked former Congressman Anthony Weiner, who resigned after Twitter indiscretions, and talked about teen suicides.
“As a representative of our student body, you cannot make any statements that could be considered bullying or cyberbullying,” said student Seth Burrell, 18, of Long Island, New York. “A girl in my high school jumped in front of a train because of bullying.”
“Those tweets were offensive,” said Arvaughnna Postema, 19. “For a school that strives for diversity, look where we’re stuck.”
Student government treasurer Luke Rozansky said Kressel’s behavior would never be tolerated by a professional organization.
Other students praised Kressel, who as president receives a salary paid in tuition of almost $10,000. His supporters called fellow students “hypocrites,” saying they also had probably misused social media.
“I think this whole situation is wasting time,” said recent graduate Will Freeman, 23. “They’re not devoting time to doing the work of the students.”
By the end of the hearing, Kressel had avoided impeachment but received a vote of “no confidence.” He will keep his job for now, but the student Senate will review his performance.
Student government members handed out guidelines for social media use that they said members of student organizations should follow in both official and personal capacities.
Kressel seemed to have learned a lesson.
“My advice is if it would upset your mom, don’t post it,” he said.
Editing by Colleen Jenkins, David Bailey and Greg McCune