Credit: Pranay Vemulamada

Access to the Class of 2021 Facebook group will be limited to just six New Student Orientation coordinators this year, a change from years past when Peers Helping Incoming New Students, or PHINS, had access to the page.

PHINS, who help incoming freshmen, transfer and exchange students adjust to life at Penn during NSO, have generally used the page to interact with incoming students during the summer. Now, they will only get to do so in person during NSO.

This change comes after a consideration by the Admissions Office to delete the Facebook group for admitted students. Access to the page provided the means for an admitted student to collect contact information from the page and add black freshmen to a racist group chat in November.

Kathryn Bezella, a spokesperson for the Admissions Office, wrote in an emailed statement earlier this year that the Admissions Office will be working with other departments, including NSO, the Registrar’s Office and the Office of Student Affairs, to “moderate” the Facebook group by managing the enrollment in and content of the page.

“The GroupMe incident led us to think about the Facebook group from the ground up,” said NSO Director David Fox. “In discussions, we all agreed that the primary goal of the group was to build community among freshmen, and that worked best when it was really their space, with only a few moderators functioning largely in the background.”

Fox added that they were limiting the participation of upperclassmen strictly to NSO coordinators because the Facebook group should not be a means to recruit students to organizations or socialize with upperclassmen.

While he said the change is not a direct outcome of the GroupMe incident, Fox said the event certainly did shape how the NSO team viewed “community building and the safety of students.”

Rising Wharton junior Gary Li, who was a member of PHINS last year, said he was surprised to hear about the change. He had posted on the Class of 2020 Facebook page occasionally throughout the year when he had an event or opportunity that he felt could benefit the entire group of freshmen.

“For instance, I’m a part of a student organization that provides support to all Wharton clubs, and all students regardless of their school can apply to Wharton clubs,” Li said. “So whenever we have our club fair or information about clubs, I’d share that in the group because that’s something freshmen are generally interested in knowing about.”

Li said that while he understood the change was made with good intentions, he felt that including PHINS in the class page overall benefitted the incoming students.

“PHINs should always be on the lookout for ways to support freshmen,” he said. “In my experience, I haven’t witnessed or heard of PHINS abusing the group ... they are carefully screened, selected, and trained so I don’t believe that restricting them from the group necessarily reduces any risk.”

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