It may seem an impossible task: Inform college students about legal issues around social media, online safety, and appropriate online behavior.
Also, keep them interested.
Fortunately for attorney C.L. Lindsay, speaker at this year’s McPherson College Mohler Lecture on Oct. 27 and 28, he’s done this before and knows the secret – humor and action figures. To illustrate each point, rather than any human models, he employed posed pictures of action figures – everything from Spider-Man to Chuck Norris to Bilbo Baggins.
Covering everything from privacy to Pokémon Go, Lindsay helped share advice to help keep college-age students out of trouble – both in an on-campus gathering on Friday and a lecture open to the public the Thursday evening before.
He said that the basic rule was simple.
“If you wouldn’t do it without technology, don’t do it with technology,” he said. “99 percent of the time that will keep people out of trouble.”
Lindsay said one of the clearest examples is when using email or text. He asks people to imagine walking up to someone and saying to their face what they are about to type. If it feels wrong “in real life,” don’t do it online, either.
“We change our expectations when we go online,” he said. “We change our ethics when we go online.”
He also gave the example of people posting their bad behavior on social media such as Facebook.
“It’s like printing off infinite copies all over campus,” he said.
The focus of his law career took a sharp turn in 1998 with a single phone call from a friend and professor where he went to college – at Denison University in Granville, Ohio. This professor was facing issues of academic freedom, with other faculty trying to pressure him to stop teaching in a certain way. He reached out to Lindsay for help, as the only attorney he knew who could assist him.
In this process, Lindsay realized that there was a true lack of legal assistance in the area of education. As a result, he left his New York law practice to found the Coalition for Student & Academic Rights (CO-STAR). As executive director, he has since built CO-STAR into a national student rights organization that each year helps thousands of college students with their legal problems – free of charge.
To broaden the reach of the lessons he learned by leading CO-STAR, Lindsay wrote the book on legal problems in post-secondary education… literally. His 2005 book “The College Student’s Guide to the Law” continues to be an authoritative guide for students and counsel at colleges and universities nationwide.
Originally, he thought the organization would mostly assist professors, but he quickly discovered that most of the requests for legal help were pouring in from students. Apart from this clear need, he sees a benefit of introducing young people to participating in the legal side of the United States democracy.
For all the warnings in his presentation, Lindsay had a final word of caution – remember that the Internet is like indoor plumbing.
Indoor plumbing can go very, very wrong when toilets back up and bathtubs overflow, but that doesn’t mean anyone really wants to go back to outhouses.
Similarly, the Internet can have terrible consequences, but that doesn’t mean one should give it up entirely – just using common sense.
“Be careful, but don’t shun this stuff,” he said. “This is some of the greatest benefit of getting to live in this day and age.”
McPherson College’s oldest continuous-running lecture series, the Mohler Lecture was made possible starting in 1975 by the generosity of Dr. Robert and Mrs. Fern Shoemaker Mohler. The lecture is supported by permanent funds from the Mohler’s initial gift that are now held in the McPherson College endowment, meaning that the Mohler lecture will continue to bring great speakers to McPherson College for years to come.