A website and Twitter feed devoted to nonconsenual photos of and lewd comments about women on UBC campus has resulted in a backlash that may have consequences for some UBC varsity athletes.
UBC is looking into whether they will discipline a number of student-athletes for their alleged involvement in the “UBC Dime Watch” website and Twitter feed.
The UBC Athletics department became aware of the site and account late Tuesday night, when UBC Insiders editor Neal Yonson tweeted an image showing that the domain name thedimewatch.com was registered to varsity hockey player Ben Schmidt. The website appeared to be linked to the Twitter account @UBCDimeWatch, which was started in early 2012. The account encouraged people to post pictures of women without their consent. A “dime” is a slang word that references the practice of rating a woman’s level of attractiveness on a scale of 1-10. Schmidt claims he made the site for a friend.
“I registered the domain and created the basic website layout for a friend. Didn’t expect publicity for it,” Schmidt said in a tweet.
“There was some concern expressed to us…. [People] complained about the sexist nature of that language, and had concerns that … some of the posts, they felt, were getting pretty close to harassment,” said UBC Director of Public Affairs Lucie McNeill.
“Or some of the posts were also a little bit scary in terms of inviting harassment. So the whole tenor of the conversation took a turn that UBC Athletics certainly felt was not something that would be considered conduct becoming of a student-athlete.”
When the details of Schmidt’s link to thedimewatch.com were made public, UBC student Ekateryna Baranovskaya retweeted them and condemned Schmidt’s involvement with the site. The @UBCDimeWatch Twitter handle and other UBC varsity athletes, tweeting under their own names and retweeting one another, mocked Baranovskaya and called her derogatory names.
“I definitely got a very, very negative response from members of the UBC varsity hockey team,” said Baranovskaya. “It definitely highlighted the things I did not like about the @ubcdimewatch Twitter account, which were very gendered insults.
“I noticed that there were quite a few more targeted at me rather than Neal [Yonson, who originally reported Schmidt's involvement]. I would say most likely it was for that reason.”
A number of athletes who were deemed to have some connection with the incident were called into an emergency meeting with UBC Athletics at noon Wednesday. They were encouraged to make sure that the website and the @UBCDimeWatch Twitter account were deleted, said McNeill. So far, UBC has not confirmed the identity of who was responsible for the Twitter feed, although they believe it may have originated within the men’s varsity hockey team. McNeill said it is not UBC’s place to uncover the identity of the people behind the anonymous account.
So far, UBC Athletics is still investigating the incident and has not yet determined if any discipline will happen. “We will be looking into this, and UBC Athletics will decide whether or not action is needed,” said McNeill. “Depending on the results,… there may be consequences.”
UBC has a code of conduct all athletes are required to sign that prohibits harassment or any actions that are “insulting, intimidating, hurtful, malicious, degrading or otherwise offensive.”
“They are held to a higher standard of behaviour; they have to have conduct becoming of a student-athlete, because they represent the university,” said McNeill.
The code doesn’t set out any specific punishments for when its rules are broken. Disciplinary action is at the discretion of the UBC Athletics department.
“People who were involved in that Twitter conversation, whose own Twitter handles were [retweeted] on that Twitter feed, they themselves deny that it was anything more than casual involvement — because they were drawn into it, because of the mention of the men’s hockey team,” said McNeill.
“So this has to be looked into a little more seriously … before we can start determining if indeed there is something that needs to be done, or actions to be taken [against] individual student-athletes.”
“I think there should be a relatively serious response,” said Baranovskaya. “If this is something that many members of the varsity hockey team are in support of, then this is something more systematic than they would like.” She said that she hopes UBC will create some form of education for student-athletes to try to prevent similar incidents in the future.
UBC does not currently have a social media policy for student-athletes, but they are developing one in response to this incident.
“To be fair, those students [tweeting] did not have guidelines in front of them,” said McNeill. She mentioned that orientation sessions for athletes at the beginning of the year did contain a brief presentation about social media.
“Clearly the people who participated in those conversations on social media think that it’s all fun and games, and maybe they don’t think of the ramifications of what it is they say,” said McNeill.
“This is a challenge that’s facing not only UBC, but all schools that have intercollegiate sport right now.”
Other universities with more prominent varsity athletics programs take varied approaches to policing their athletes on social media. According to Carter Henderson, an assistant athletic director at the University of Washington, student athletes at that school sign a general code of conduct but no policy specific to social media. That’s handled on a program-by-program basis, meaning it is under the purview of head coaches. To his knowledge, no incidents had occurred under this policy.
Within the University of California system, student-athletes sign a social media policy that gives general advice and begins with, “If you wouldn’t want your grandma to read it, DON’T post/tweet it.”
At UBC, McNeill said it was a challenge for staff to keep tabs on students’ social media use. “It goes to show that there is a bit of a generational divide between faculty, staff leadership, who tend to be over 35, and students, who are often younger than 25,” she said.
These incidents come at a time when UBC Athletics is still in its first year of participating in “Be More than a Bystander,” a campaign aimed at raising awareness about domestic violence through the endorsement of prominent athletes. The program is also promoted by the B.C. Lions CFL team.
— With files from Jonny Wakefield
UPDATE (7:30 p.m.): This article was lengthened to include comment from Ekateryna Baranovskaya and include more of Lucie McNeill’s comments.