Brookdale Board Member Under Fire For Tweets

A trustee of Brookdale Community College was found posting and liking racist comments on Twitter, and now there is a petition, published through Brookdale’s student newspaper, calling for his resignation.

Board of Trustee member Joseph DiBella’s Twitter account was shown liking several tweets posted by others, and others that he wrote himself. All contained racist content, such as calling President Barack Barack Obama an “islamic black monkey” and others that contained use of severe derogative terminology and obscene suggestions.

DiBella reportedly told the Asbury Park Press that he was not responsible for the alleged behavior. He claimed that the Tweets were liked by hackers, and that Photoshop was used to alter the tweets to defame him. According to Brookdale administrators, the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office is investigating whether the account was hacked or not.

“I haven’t written anything that is racist and I haven’t liked anything that is racist,” DiBella told the Press. “If there is some electronic re-creation out there it was either altered, or my account has been hacked. Someone has clearly altered, Photoshopped and likely hacked my account to recreate or suggest that I liked things of a disgusting, racist nature that I did not. It is regrettable in this day and age that people can use technology as a weapon.”

However, students do not seem to believe DiBella’s claims, and are calling for his resignation. The student newspaper is circulating a petition asking for his resignation; according to Alex Nichols, the editor of Brookdales student newspaper, The Stall, 80 students have already signed it.

“As soon as we were made aware of his Tweets, we archived them… On Sept. 1, a friend, a Brookdale alum, posted a few screenshots of his Tweets on Facebook, and we started researching to see if they were real,” Nichols told the Middletown Patch.

“He has 7,000 followers, and has been posting and liking vitriolic content for the past two years in some form or another. Unless he’s been lost on an island for the past two years without an Internet connection, I doubt that he’s been aware of what’s being put on his Twitter account. It appears to me that he’s just trying to save face,” added Nichols.

Brookdale faculty members also claim that they do not believe that the account was hacked.

“If you had a Twitter feed, and for two years, there were these awful things in your name that were expressed in your Twitter feed, you would have not waited until someone brought it to your attention or brought it to the institute’s attention before you went and asked the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office,” said Jack Ryan, an assistant professor of English at Brookdale, to the Asbury Park Press.

At the most recent Monmouth County Freeholder’s meeting, held on Thursday, Sept. 8, multiple Brookdale students and staff members spoke about the Twitter account. DiBella was appointed by the Freeholders in 2013.

Monmouth University has guidelines and a social media policy that covers employees, available on Monmouth’s website.

“The policy outlines the difference between social media for professional use and for personal use,” said Robyn Salvo, the University’s director for human resources. She said,“‘Professional use’ occurs when a Monmouth University employee creates or posts on the behalf of the University or as a University representative. ‘Personal use’ occurs when an employee creates or posts to any social media site about matters not related to the University and without revealing his/her affiliation with the University. The policy also states that employees shouldn’t present their personal beliefs as those of Monmouth University or endorse or promote a cause or political candidate, etc., on behalf of the University.”

Salvo continued, “The social media policy is very specific about users acting on behalf of Monmouth University adhering to policies and procedures already in place, including the University’s Code of Ethics, which applies to both students and employees. However, it’s important to note that what happened at Brookdale Community College involved a Trustee. Monmouth Trustees are not employees of the University.”

According to Tara Peters, Associate Vice President of Marketing & Communications, at the University a board member would be reviewed for such actions. “An invitation to serve on a board of trustees is one of the highest honors a college or university can bestow on an individual. In their role as Board members, individuals are responsible for enhancing the university’s public standing and ensuring legal and ethical integrity and, as such, are accountable for adherence to legal standards, University policies and ethical norms. If there were concerns about a Board member, they would be reviewed by the University’s Committee on Trustees,” she said.

DiBella had long been posting and sharing his conservative views on Facebook; he claimed that he was allowed to do so under the First Amendment. His posts showed commentary about political activist Al Sharpton, the Black Lives Matter movement, and quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

“I tell kids in class, you should always be building your brand,” said Kristine Simoes, a specialist professor of communications. “You never know how far back those Tweets or posts could go. You are building a professional presence, no matter whether you are intentionally building that or not. You should be building your brand, and if you Tweet, post, re-tweet, share, whatever, any racist content, that information is out there.”

“I think if a trustee here did that, that wouldn’t be good,” said Lauren Lucia, a junior chemistry student. “They should either get fired or get fined or something. I think sometimes people take it too far when they kick students out of schools for saying politically incorrect or racist things on social media, but I think if you’re a trustee it’s different; I think then you have to have more responsibility since you’re the face of the school.”

According to the Board of Freeholders, no action will be taken regarding DiBella’s status as a trustee until the investigation is completed.