- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 2, 2006

RADFORD, Va. (AP) — As an increasing number of people log on to MySpace.com, some Virginia colleges are beginning to use freshmen orientations to talk about the dangers and benefits of such Web sites.

James Madison University, Virginia Tech, Radford University, the University of Virginia and George Mason University are addressing the subject of the online hangouts with incoming students.

“Our general attitude is: We’re not going to be able to stop it, so why don’t we role model some good behavior?” said Hugh Brown, associate director of residence life at James Madison.

Student orientation leaders at Madison, Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia will lead discussions about the sites with incoming students. Madison and Virginia Tech, however, don’t plan to speak with parents about the sites.

Virginia Tech students also will receive a handout about cyber-safety and cyber-civility, created by Mercyhurst College in Pennsylvania.

Although Facebook.com has been around since 2004 and MySpace.com since 2003, college administrators only recently learned of their popularity, said Shawn McGuirk of Fitchburg State College in Massachusetts.

Mr. McGuirk gives seminars nationwide on the positive and negative aspects of Facebook.com, which he uses to connect with students.

The main question asked to incoming students is: Would they want their family members, potential employers, school faculty or law enforcement to see their profiles?

“Sometimes it amazes me how much information students put online,” Michael Mardis, the dean of students at Radford, told a group of about 150 incoming students during an orientation. “You don’t want to put something out there you don’t want out there. It’s public.”

Parents of incoming Radford students are hearing a similar message from college administrators.

Still, administrators don’t want to beat the drum too loudly because many students have heard the same concerns from high school counselors and teachers.

Frank Pleta, 17, who will attend Radford in the fall, and his friend Mike Escario have accounts on the sites. Both said they have heard ad nauseam about the dangers of sexual predators and others online who could hurt them.

“We know already,” he said.

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