[Editor's note: This article was published earlier this month in the Albany High School newspaper, the Cougar, and was written by student Samantha Chiang. It is reprinted here with permission.]
By Samantha Chiang
Albany Middle School teacher James Izumizaki died recently, following allegations of abuse.
Albany High School students joined the rest of the community in a frenzied online discussion on September 26, when news emerged that middle school teacher and coach James Izumizaki had been arrested. Izumizaki, who had just begun his fifth year of teaching at Albany Middle, faced accusations of committing lewd acts with a student.
The news was impossible for students to ignore, appearing everywhere from the local news to social media feeds. Hundreds of comments were posted in response to online articles, and blocks of text replaced scattered thoughts in personal statuses as each student weighed in with his or her own opinion on the events that had occurred. It seemed unlikely, if not unthinkable that any other event could rival the reaction generated by the arrest of the well-known Albany teacher.
However, this assumption proved to be false. On the afternoon of October 1, just five days after the initial arrest, Albany students and their families were informed by a startling robo-call that Izumizaki had passed away as a result of what was reported to be a suspected suicide.
Again, the community took to social media to express a broad range of opinions.
The role of media in the aftermath of these events created an unprecedented response. Those affected, the majority of whom were young people, found a platform to exercise their freedom of speech through Facebook, Twitter, and other popular forms of social media.
The diversity of responses sparked further discussion about the overwhelming influence of the media in the tiny town. The community began to raise questions as to whether this freedom was a positive, negative, or simply inevitable aspect of a changing society.
Anyone who wanted a say in the issue could easily be heard, regardless of what they had to say. “The media is just another voice that people can use to express themselves,” commented Albany High Assistant Principal Susan Charlip.
However, according to Albany High Identity, Health, and Society teacher Emily Surowitz, the media also provided opportunity for people to “get swept up without thinking about the larger picture.”
The many unanswerable questions in Izumizaki’s story created voids that were quickly filled by an onslaught of responses from students, parents, and other members of the community who found an outlet to place blame on the media. The Albany Police, local news websites, and the school district were among the many groups that found themselves being blamed online for what had happened in thr Izumizaki case.
Some of the answers created by the online Albany community escalated into full-fledged battles between those who viewed the situation in opposite ways. Some showed indignation on behalf of Izumizaki, and expressed anger towards those who even suggested that Izumizaki was guilty. Others clearly supported the young accusers, criticising Izumizaki’s supporters for being disrespectful to the supposed victims.
The online commentary, no matter which side it took, seemed to be unceasing. Charlip described the discussion surrounding the events as “a natural way [for students] to make sense of their lives.”
The virtual reaction to Izumizaki’s arrest and death demonstrated the overpowering influence of the media that has only recently existed become prominent in society. Events and media have become increasingly dependent on each other, as those who chose to participate in the discussion each contribute to the original story. “We live in an age where we make the news ourselves, to some degree,” explained Charlip.
Charlip expressed belief that the media itself bears no responsibility for any individual’s actions, and is simply a modern-day “den” for discussion.
The freedom and availability of the media entrusts a level of responsibility in the hands of its users. Surowitz explained that a tangled situation like the one that Albany faced requires students, as well as adults, to “think critically about the media.”
“The media is just a piece of a really complicated story,” Surowitz concluded.