Trolls and Elections and Feminism

I got into an argument with a Facebook troll today.  I don’t know why I even started–I know it’s pointless, that these people are out there to get a reaction, not to engage in civilized discourse or learn something new.  But I got so infuriated by a set of comments, I couldn’t help myself, and before you know it, there I was: spending time crafting evidence-based, reasoned comments (with only a hint of jabbiness, I promise!), and getting back insults in reply.

The backstory: A professor at the college I attended was filmed making comments before class encouraging students to “vote for someone who thinks women are full and capable and responsible and intelligent beings,” to vote for “somebody who respects the fact that this is a country built on immigrants,” to vote for the candidate who will “hold people together, not…pull people apart.”  The comments were made before class started, and the professor ended with a comment like, ok, enough from me, let’s get on to…

I don’t know if the student in class who filmed it is a Republican, or Democrat.  I don’t know why the video ended up in the media, as opposed to maybe the Academic Dean’s Office (where I would likely go, if I were offended by something that happened in class).  I learned, through following this news story, that it’s illegal to record someone without their consent in MA.  But I watched the video and thought, really?  This is a news story?  In campuses all over the country, students and professors are engaged in discourse and debate about this election.  In a best world, those conversations are rich in diversity, perspective, and experience.  In a best world, those conversations are safe, respectful, open, and learning-oriented.  In my four years at Mount Holyoke, I had countless conversations like this with peers and professors alike, in class, in the dining halls, on the green.  More voices were liberal than conservative, to be sure, but no voices were disrespectful, or silenced.

He shouldn’t have been using his podium to tell students who to vote for! critics argue.  Um, well…ok, but to get technical, he didn’t actually say any names.  And he was talking to a room full of adults, who have the ability to think critically and evaluate for bias.  When our environment is this saturated in political nastiness, the subject plays into every arena–even my fourth grade classroom.  When my students asked me, point-blank, who I would vote for, did I shout I’M WITH HER! from the desktops, and plaster the walls with Clinton/Kaine posters?  No.  But I couldn’t ignore the question, and did say that having been in my class, they were very familiar with my core values, and that I would have to vote for the candidate that shared those values.  I didn’t know how else I could answer that question, and still validate each of my students (half of them girls, and many of them immigrants, or children of immigrants), and their experiences.  When I attended Mount Holyoke, I absolutely looked up to my professors–they were brilliant, and I did care what they thought about the subjects they taught, and the world we live in.  But that doesn’t mean that I had to blindly accept and agree with whatever they said.

But that’s a digression.  I didn’t start writing this to defend the professor’s remarks, or whether he should have said them at all.  The response to it was what appalled me.  After conservative media picked up this story, Mount Holyoke’s Facebook page began to get bombarded by bad reviews.  In my quick, unscientific analysis, most of these “reviewers” were men, and most had no actual connection to MHC–never been there, never known a student from there.  Over 200 people came to write reviews, ranging from the “it’s inappropriate for a professor to try to sway students’ votes” to angry insults belittling our intelligence, our community, our career and earnings potential, LGBTQ students, international students, our (lack of) patriotism, our decisions to attend Mount Holyoke, our parents for allowing us to do so, our liberal and feminist “brainwashing” and so on, and so on.  This is where I got stuck in the troll battles.

I’m mad as hell about these personal attacks made against the college I call “MoHome” and the brilliant, amazing students, past and present.  But the MHC community has rallied to defend our Alma Mater, and that makes me feel a little better–the Facebook page is now being taken over by 5-star reviews from those of us who have attended MHC, sent our daughters or sisters there, or from allies who have been impacted by the existence of an institution for higher learning that provides a safe space for students to learn, reflect, and grow.  (If you’re at all inclined, feel free to leave your own review!).

I don’t know quite where I’m trying to go with this blog post.  I just think that no matter who you are voting for, civil, respectful discourse should be a baseline expectation.  I think before you attack something or someone (and why do we need to attack?  Question, sure, challenge, if you need to), make sure you’ve compiled the evidence from trustworthy sources (maybe harder to find these days, but not THAT hard).  Defining a college and all of its students from the soundbite of one professor is like characterizing the entire Republican party by its nominee.

Except…in this case, I think a class taught in a lecture hall filled with intelligent women, many of whom are POC, members of the LGBTQ community, immigrants, and international students, who (as evidenced by the video recording) don’t all share the same beliefs, being encouraged by a feminist man to vote for the candidate who views them as human beings with equal rights, before getting to work learning high-level math, is a kind of perfect microcosm of MHC…I would not be the person I am today without my Mount Holyoke experience, and I would strongly encourage anyone who is college-bound, or knows someone who is college-bound, to check it out!

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About Teacher Cait

Massachusetts educator, learner, committed to finding joy every day. @CaitAhern
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