The Breakdown on the Meme that Broke Higher Ed Twitter: Part 2

Note: This is Part 2 of a two-part essay analyzing the contentious debate(?) among higher education professionals (primarily in student affairs) on Twitter, and its greater application to the field. I believe this will serve as a strong case study on the generational differences in higher education professionals, meme culture, and the reactionary techniques utilized to protect white womanhood. Given the intricate and fascinating (to a nerd who enjoys examining how power dynamics in higher ed play out on social media) pieces to this story, I have broken up the essay into two parts. [Part 1] [Part 2]


Table of Contents:

Part 1

  • I. To Meme or Not to Meme
  • II. So…what broke Twitter?
  • III. The issue on the table? (#Hamiltonreferences4ever)
  • IV….um…
  • V. And then?
  • VI. Are we done yet?
  • VII. But the Students!
  • VIII. The Next “Hot Take”
  • IX. Changing the Narrative
  • X. Actually, It’s About Legislators
  • XI. Victimization Narrative & Gaslighting Others

Part 2

  • XII. White Woman Victimhood ramps up
  • XIII. Gaslighting Continues…
  • XIV. Divisive Tactics
  • XV. She Didn’t Shame Anyone!
  • XVI. Ok and this one is just funny
  • XVII. Call Her Khaleesi
  • XVIII. Peak White Feminism: Misgendering and Racism
  • XIX. Fear Mongering of the “Secret Black List”
  • XX. In Conclusion
  • XXI. But what’s next?

XII. White Woman Victimhood ramps up

Sara uses the name of a well-known academic and tv personality who wrote a supportive tweet in her reply below. It is interesting for her to use the name of a Black man in the mentions of a well-known Black woman scholar, even though by this point she has engaged in a racist tactic towards a man in student affairs (more on that below).

IMG-3964

By this point on May 30, SGR has engaged in oppressive acts (racism and transphobia – described later in the article) but believes she is being “dragged” because she is a female scholar.

One could argue that student affairs doesn’t come hard for men who perpetuate oppression…but then just look into the case of a certain Higher Ed Thought Leader who owns a speaking bureau business (that is fronted as a nonprofit) that held accountable multiple times, banned from the Student Affairs Professionals Facebook Group, and taken to task on Twitter. He engaged in racism, sexism, and nastily criticizing a young professional on his podcast. I’d name him, but the word is he has threatened legal action against folks who speak about him and he calls their universities to make false claims about them.

sips tea gif.gif

Anyways…

IMG-3966

It is ironic that Sara brought up Ann Marie Klotz and sees similarities with her, considering what took place (also described later in this essay) in 2016.

XIII. Gaslighting Continues…

Much later into the conversation, SGR tries to argue that her word use of “effective” is different from the perceived meaning of “effective” (how people took it). Kind of like those silly Twix commercials where they go “or like how I’m a ghost and you’re a spirit!” This is called gaslighting, folks.

huh

Which directly contradicts what she said.

victim 5000000

This is understandable. She wants to be able to hold her opinion. That would have been fine…if she hadn’t engaged in the initial rude behavior, and then went wild on elements of racism, classism, and transphobia. A nice attempt at changing the narrative to her victimhood, tho…

BUT YOU DID

But she did attack people!

we could say

…student affairs folks could say the same for you

pushback

But in reality, SGR actually never responded to the substance of my very respectful comments on Tuesday night or many other folks’ respectful comments.

XIV. Divisive Tactics

pitting them against each other

Now we have reached the point where SGR – a cis white woman with class and Academy privilege (and I am quite sure financial privilege compared to the folks she mentions here) – seeks to engage in divisive politics. How dare these SAPros advocate for themselves and their right to enjoy a quiet summer! Meanwhile, look at these other groups who must struggle!

This is classism.

This is union-busting rhetoric.

This is divisive.

Although transformational higher education requires solidarity among all who hold privileged and oppressed identities…SGR would rather be pit groups against each other.

This was probably the most disappointing take. I’m unsure if SGR grew up in poverty like the students she advocates for, but it really doesn’t seem like it here. There’s no community mindset.

XV. She Didn’t Shame Anyone!

she didnt shame

LOL still says no shaming

But…

thor - is it tho

shaming 500

Now she’s saying that folks are lying – she never shamed.

And, uh, I’m not buying on her never shaming staff. Not unless all staff she’s worked with provide some confirmation of only positive experiences. At this point, it seems like the way she treats people would make it…interesting to work for her.

she has no ide

Then she deflects the harm she causes and engages in further  gaslighting – that she never caused harm at all.

When someone specifically addressed her problematic language, she refuted it and blamed how folks perceived the injury to be their own fault:

ahem

no shaming telephone

If that was her way of empathizing with a heavy workload, I imagine she learned how to connect with folks from this guy:

how you do fellow kids

Here’s the thing – she never emphasized with a heavy workload. She actually weaponized her heavy workload as a way to say folks who are looking forward to summer need to be more efficient. And again, if multiple entry-level SAPros say “you’re shaming us” and you keep saying “nope!”, uh…that means you are shaming folks – even if it was not your intent.

XVI. Ok and this one is just funny

cc pros weird tweet

Thanks for jumping in there, Clint.

XVII. Call Her Khaleesi

khaleesi sea of brown people.gif

Khaleesi! (Game of Thrones reference)

Sara began to continuously play into the role of “savior”; not an uncommon approach from white people (see: Teju Cole’s ‘The White-Savior Industrial Complex‘).

proven advocate she is

She’s a proven student advocate, y’all! Unlike all of her mean, nasty critics. To another SAPro she went back on the ‘this is student shaming’ and glorified herself:

savior of SA

Multiple times SGR made statements that SHE is working on behalf of entry-level SAPros and really spun an interesting web of savior mentality.

Perhaps her self-victimization comes from her fans? Many tweeted how brave she was to stand up to a “Twitter mob” (people self-advocating, many from the margins of society) and she retweeted many of them. She even retweeted someone who is saying there were death threats when there were not any made at all, and it was truly egregious to pump up the situation so much:

retweets

Her savior and sanctimonious vibe continued in multiple tweets. Within her “apology” on May 29th, Sara again played up the new narrative that she was empathizing with people, reminds her readers that she is righteous and standing up for students, and that her 20 years of work speaks for itself.

apology 1apology 2

Folks, she is on GOOGLE. Clearly, not someone to disagree with:

twitter - google her.jpg

XVIII. Peak White Feminism: Misgendering and Racism

I identify strongly as a feminist and really prefer to uplift other women…but I am also very dedicated to calling in/out fellow white women when they engage in harmful practices.

I also don’t like it when privileged white women use feminist terms to shoot down ideas they disagree with. It negatively harms women who actually use the terms in sincerity. There were a couple of people who critiqued SGR’s tweets by recounting what she said and she told them to “Stop mansplaining” her (example 1; example 2)

And then…

SGR misgendered someone.

transphobe

It is very clear that she said folks were mansplaining her to anyone who (she thought) presented as male in their profile picture and/or had a “male” name. She did not take a second to check the person’s profile, where their pronouns are listed (they/them). When fairly critiqued on this issue, SGR doubled down on the transphobia with fake news:

cant be wrong

uhh firefly.gif

Uh…

trans 4 For some reason, Sara used a random article from a British newspaper to argue it is not a gendered term…but the article actually confirmed that the term “mansplaining” is a gendered term. She explains that this is what her students say…but many white students I know still believe ‘reverse racism’ is a real thing and I don’t coddle inaccurate use of social terms. Mansplaining has been a gendered term since it was published by Rebecca Solnit in the LA Times article ‘Men Explain Things To Me‘.

twitter- genderAh, clearly SGR is “woke”, as she knows the term “gender non-conforming people”.

transphobe 3

There’s a great thread of folks challenging her ‘definition’ of mansplaining.

The kicker? She kept doubling down and never even responded to the person she misgendered.

asshole

Two days later, Bryan, the person Sara misgendered, added:
twitter -never apologies
These actions are transphobic, Sara. And this is not okay.

Then SGR made a classist, elitist, and ableist statement. (Why ableist? Anytime folks pull those elementary school taunts about people not being able to read, of being dumb, etc – these are part of a greater abelist narrative around intelligence). And, to be fair, if this is how Sara responds to someone with the word “tranz” in their user name…I think it’s fair to say that transphobia could have played a role with her response.

transphobe 2

Then she responded to a Black man working in Student Affairs with this:

twitter-paul porter

Girl.

racist qu.gif

Anytime a white person is in a disagreement with a Black person and tries to compare the situation at hand to racism, when it does not relate at all to racism? This is a racist action. This is not okay. Sara never responded to responses of how her tweet was not comparable and racist.

XIX. Fear Mongering of the “Secret Black List”

This whole situation and issues of white feminism reminded me greatly of Ann Marie Klotz, a senior administrator in student affairs. In November 2016, her blog post tore down a group on facebook and implicitly calling many folks of color, LGBTQ+ folks, and folks with disabilities a dumpster fire (read: ‘The Open Letter to the Open Letter’ to understand more) because they engaged in the profession authentically in a way she did not approve of (i.e., challenging oppression). An anonymous person commented on her blog post (now deleted) something like “well I won’t be hiring any of those people”. AMK did not challenge this statement rooted in racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, or classism. Instead her response said something about how she understood.

Well, the secret black list made another appearance in this following thread:

fear mongering 1

white womanhood.PNG

Folks repeatedly asked her how she responded to the people who made these threats or if she thought they were okay. She tweeted several times that she said it was not ok…yet that was not in her original tweet or took meaning in any tweet. As @sunnydaejones stated in her response, this threat keeps arising when younger SAPros make critiques, yet those that make these threats are protected. Sara and AMK both would not out these anonymous administrators or take a stand against the unethical statements.

XX. In Conclusion

First, thank you for taking the time to read this essay.

There are a few takeaways from this incident. First, there is a generation gap in terms of online communication use and a difference in attitudes towards summer between student affairs staff and some faculty.  Second, this is a good example of how conversations can devolve on social media. Who knew when Humans of Higher Ed tweeted the summer break gif that it would ultimately result in a senior scholar engaging in oppressive behavior?

Finally, this incident is a good example of white womanhood (anywhere, but especially in academia) works to protect itself, by both the white woman involved and her advocates. Gaslighting, reframing the narrative to suit one’s purpose, self-victimization, and then (as the conversation continued over several days) diving into oppressive tactics to prove her point and make herself appear the victim.

PhD student CJ Venable analyzed SGR’s language and cited ‘Getting slammed: White depictions of race discussions as arenas of violence‘ (DiAngelo & Sensoy, 2012) in regards to SGR’s violent language and self-victimization.

CJ tweet.jpg

@TranzWrites contributed to discussion on this being an example of fragile white womanhood.

IMG-3976

IMG-3977

I already mentioned at the start of this essay that Sachet Watson, wrote an outstanding critique (click to see the thread), but here are a few key things to understand (click images to view full-size):

To be honest, “The Fragility of White Women Thought Leaders” could be its own essay, comparing what took place from AMK in 2016 and SGR in 2019. It is my hope that readers will critically consider how whiteness shows up in academia, and in academic social media spaces.

XXI. But what’s next?

Do we “cancel” SGR? This is an interesting ethical issue. There are some that say “cancel” culture is too much – that everyone is problematic and we cannot cancel everyone; that everyone grows and learns over time. There are folks who believe that individuals who do good work (artistic or academic) but engage in harmful behavior should still be protected, because we don’t want to lose their contributions to society. SGR is a strong academic who engages in advocacy around important issues. Yet, she still engaged in oppressive acts and refused to take responsibility or apologize. What do you, Gentle Reader, think the next step should be?

As someone who easily could have been one of Sara’s research subjects (very low-income, first generation college student, and food insecure in college), I do find her attitude interesting. In my opinion, the way that she engages with others and weaponizes her reputation and advocacy work to attack others who come from that same background (but are a bit older) demonstrates that she is a good example of folks who do not have the lived experience of the people they are studying. There is a hubris that can easily develop when one is privileged compared to the populations they study. It does appear that serving as an advocate for low-income students has built up a savior mentality for SGR. Gentle Readers, please remember this case study for when you engage in research or advocacy for underrepresented populations.

On the topic of power, privilege, and understanding one’s positionality to others in higher education, it is imperative that individuals holding major privileged identities learn from this case study of what not to do. When someone says “hey, the impact of your statement was harmful”, do consider how you may have been wrong, engage thoughtfully, and apologize. If you misgender someone, for Thor’s sake, apologize. As a white person, don’t compare inane topics to racism when speaking to people of color. Get yourself people who will check you when you mess up and don’t inflate your ego.

And finally, remember that no matter how much “good” you’ve done, social justice isn’t a set of scales administered by Anubis. Your good acts don’t give you a “get out of racist/transphobic/etc jail free card”. We all make mistakes. But what matters is how we own up to them, apologize, learn from it, teach others, and keep moving on to make the world a better place.

And one more thing: Carefully consider this well-timed retweet by SGR. Sounds like good advice for all of us.

twitter - her tweet is great.jpg

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2 comments

  1. Thanks for your analytical essay. I am a former #SAPro, adn when I read the twitter storm, I was appalled at the way SGR behaved. I do think it’s interesting that you feel that the generation gap is a significant factor in this disagreement. I supervised entry level folks for about 10 years, and worked with them for 18, and I fully recognized (and felt myself) the joy that came from a lightened student case load in the summer, and I’m pretty far away from being an entry level professional. I wonder if SGR’s complete lack of understanding has more to do with it being unlikely that she never did that work? More for me to think about here. Thanks for taking a very confrontational exchange and applying some theoretical concepts to help us think more deeply about what’s going on here.

    Like

    1. Thank you Jasi for commenting! Great point and I should elaborate: I definitely thought that there was a generational gap in terms of using memes/gifs as humor and interpreting that as humor – to a degree. Everyone who agreed with SGR, for the most part according to their bios, had been in the field 15-20 years. Whereas the folks who disagreed with her interpretation were mostly (in the conversation at the time) self-identified as millennials. Yet, of course, many of my older friends in SA disagreed with her as well. I think you’re getting at it with the fact that SGR just didn’t have that type of work experience.
      Thank you for reading.

      Like

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