SGR

The Breakdown on the Meme that Broke HigherEd Twitter, Part 1

Note: The following is an analysis of 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]

I disclose that I was very involved in the dialogue and I have strong opinions – hence I’ve provided screenshots so folks can read and form their own opinion alongside my analysis. It’s okay for multiple truths to exist on one topic, for folks to disagree with me, and for folks to tell me I did something wrong (if true, I’ll fix it).

Please note that I am not the only voice on this topic – see threads by Sachet Watson, Dr. D-L Stewart, and (in response to the tweets on blacklisting) Jana.; plus multiple tweets (not all in a thread) by CJ Venable, Sunny, and Lena Tenney (here and here) and SO many others.


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?

I. To Meme or Not to Meme

On Monday, May 27th, a meme from the parody student affairs account Humans of Higher Ed (HoHe) run by (I believe) entry-level professionals (see the interview with the creators by Amma Marfo here) [update: Twitter informed me two are director-level folks] posted the following kind of tweet they normally do (link, since its a gif):

HOH original

Image Text: “When you realize that when you get to work tomorrow no students will be there.” Image: Baseball players jumping out of their chairs celebrating enthusiastically.

This is the standard sort of thing you tend to see from educators, in k-12 or higher ed. In fact, it is quite prevalent in k-12 education – there are plenty of memes by and for teachers celebrating summer (see: google image results); if you have a teacher friend, you’ve probably seen them celebrate summer. Same is true for retail workers around holiday hours, CPAs during tax season, and parents excited to send their kids back to school in September. Some folks like memes like this, other folks just shrug because its not for them.

But for some folks, they couldn’t just shrug it off.

One professor replied to the meme “This is absolutely disgusting and inappropriate.” A Senior Student Affairs Officer (SSAO) took the meme literally to say “<face palm emoji.> <— that feeling when folks who work in higher ed don’t realize many institutions continue to educate and engage students all 12 months. It might be a bit quieter, but I am so glad that our students still show up, get involved, and make progress toward their goals!”. A higher ed consultant with their own HE company called the meme gross and went on a bit about it. (no names b/c its their titles/positionality that matter here)

Why the disconnect?

If we approach this from a sociological perspective, we must first understand how differences in generation, class, and other identities/experiences will lead folks to approach memes differently. Memes are a unique tool of communication based in culture and can be difficult to understand, especially if one is not from that culture (Nissenbaum & Shifman, 2018). They are considered a form of “creativity” in “everyday conversation” (Willmore & Hocking, 2017, p. 140).

In regards to age, millennials love memes and use them as a source of comfort, humor, connection, etc (Urban, 2017; O’Connor, 2018; Milner, 2012). As the parody account creators and most folks interacting with the discourse are millennials, this is relevant. In particular, their usage is often made for humor, and that is a good thing for well-being and society (Taecharungroj, & Nueangjamnong, 2014). Millennial memes have, and continue to have a huge effect on society and organizations (Atay & Ashlock, 2018); it is only natural that they would shake up long-held perspectives in student affairs/higher education (SA/HE).

For a subset of millennials, specifically people of color, memes are used as method to thrive in an oppressive world. The college newspaper The McGill Daily discusses this in their article “What it memes to heal: Memes as a tool for healing for POC” (Dahanayake, 2018). The Digital Sociology Magazine at Virginia Commonwealth University also wrote “memes as racialized discourse” (tabi, 2017). This applies to many other marginalized groups as well, including women, LGBTQ+ folks, etc (Highfield, 2016; Westfall, 2018).

And on humor – well, good memes often utilize the comedic device of hyperbole. Clearly, I don’t know of any Student Affairs professionals (and I know many) who actually run, jump, and cheer when the summer session starts. Of course many of us still have some students, albeit a much reduced caseload.

II. So…what broke Twitter?

Well-known researcher, faculty member, and administrator Sara Goldrick-Rab (SGR, per her website branding; see list of media appearances). She founded the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice at Temple University and does very strong work supporting first generation and low-income college students via research and advocacy. Her background is in sociology but focuses on higher ed research; she claims to have worked in student affairs at one point but it is not listed on her CV (but then again, nothing is before 2004), so I cannot confirm her actual experience in this area. She’s enough of a public figure that she is verified on Twitter with over 32k followers.

In response to critique of the HoHE original tweet, entry-level Student Affairs professional Kimberly explained the tweet to the critics, and asked to not be shamed.

So what does SGR do? Shame her.

1st Tweet from Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab (also known as SGR): If you need a “break” from students, take a vacation. If you find they sap you then you might need @Jessifer and others to help you learn how to be more effective. And let’s remember- there is no higher education without students. #RealCollege. Second tweet from SGR: Celebrating the departure of students in summer is a trope. The idea that staff wellbeing requires distance from students, dependent on “summer break,” is privilege itself and ignores the hard work of staff and faculty educating year round. #RealCollege. Note: the quote she was tweeting was from Kimberly Newtown @knewt14, who said: We can miss our students but still appreciate and welcome a change of pace. I was pumped for my students to leave for the summer and that doesn’t make me care about them less. They are amazing! I encourage you to not shame people for needing a break.Now, SGR has (rightfully) critiqued oppressive ‘jokes’ that do punch down on students – the faculty who joke about all the dead grandmothers, etc. Those are excellent critiques because they have real world implications for students who actually do experience a crisis and then faculty may not care because of the trope that students lie to get out of exams.

III. The issue on the table? (#Hamiltonreferences4ever)

This initial critique is not based in logic.

  • “The idea that staff wellbeing requires distance from students, dependent on “summer break,” is privilege itself and ignores the hard work of staff and faculty educating year round.”
    • The folks who were initially responding are indeed staff who work educating year round. Very few colleges actually have 0 students during the summer – it just means educators have a reduced workload.
    • A summer break is a privilege? Uh…she appears not to be aware of the inequities that entry-level student affairs professionals face. The long hours, the low pay, the older professionals who expect younger folks to make work their #1 priority even if the institution considers them easily replacable? The immense workload of supporting student needs on top of program planning and other administrative tasks – never feeling like they can manage it all and thus look forward to the respite of summer? This is a common discussion topic in multiple student affairs spaces, especially among millennials
  • “If you need a “break” from students, take a vacation. If you find they sap you then you might need @Jessifer and others to help you learn how to be more effective. And let’s remember- there is no higher education without students.”
    • Sara doesn’t seem to understand the realities of student affairs work. I have learned from my colleagues in facebook groups that they often cannot take vacations because they may not earn that much PTO, or have oppressive supervisors who literally will not allow them to take off time or only allow one day at a time during certain time periods. This is a classist statement, and not one we would expect from someone who studies class. Apparently she only cares about folks while they are college students, much like how Republicans only care about fetuses.
    • She tagged Jesse Stommel, a Verfied Twitter account and Director of an office of Teaching and Learning Technologies. With over 23k followers, Jesse seems a deliberate tag in order to advance her Thoughts(™) to a wider audience. To be fair, Sara defended tagging him with the rationale that he’s her writing partner on the topic of “student shaming”. This can indeed be true. But the impact of her action makes it appear much differently from folks who do not have blue checkmarks.
    • She insults the entry-level professional by indicating that the person is not effective with her time, and that a leader in teaching could aid her. Sara appears to say that if the SAPro were more efficient, she wouldn’t miss the downtime of summer….
    • Finally, she mentions the students piece. This is a truth. Another truth is the the discourse among millennial student affairs professionals on social media is that they/we are very tired of institutions espousing that they prioritize students (even though they often don’t for students at the margins) but don’t prioritize staff support and care. Entry-level professionals are disposable because there are so many student affairs graduate programs that there are more candidates than jobs. For example, I know a white middle-aged male director who is never worried about high staff turnover because there are always so many applicants for any opening. That’s the toxicity of our environment. That is our reality for many folks. And as with any person in under-appreciated and low-paying roles (teachers, social workers, etc), research tells us that if we support staff wellness that the students will greatly benefit.

Gif of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend character Heather Davis saying: So then what happened?.

Kimberly responded to SGR and said “no need to be demeaning.” Instead of a response like “I’m sorry – I didn’t mean to be demeaning”, she responded thusly:

First tweet is from Kimberly Newton in response to SGR: No need to be demeaning. Students are my primary focus, I do take vacation, but I’m also entry level which means I do all of the things. Thanks though [includes emoji of someone shrugging]. In the second tweet, SGR responds with: Virtually all of us do all the things. I pull 80 hours a week every week and you’d never catch me saying I’m glad the students are gone. I’m an educator because the students are everything.

IV….um…

Gif of actress Kristen Bell playing Eleanor Shellstrop on The Good Place staring in amazment and saying in all caps "HOLY MOTHER FORKING SHIRT BALLS!"

It is interesting that SGR took a neoliberal pro-capitalist approach to the tweet (and in another), instead of recognizing the humanity of an entry-level pro, she doubled down on how she does all of the things, works 80 hours, and is clearly just a better person. (note: does she count all her time on Twitter as work? 80 hours is v unhealthy, girl).

good person.gif

This song from “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” came to mind. Lyrics: “I’m a good person better than you!”

reponse to 80 hrs

In the above tweet, SGR assures that she is not bragging about her hours, but it is my interpretation – and many others – that she did weaponize her ‘work ethic’ in the original tweet to the entry-level pro.

I can see the point about her viewing the original meme as a destructive trope and why she, from her position, may see that. Her entire research and perspective on higher ed creates such a lens that it is logical how she would place that judgement on a meme like this. But again, she (and many other higher-level HE folks) inflated the meme to great importance – the meme (and its defenders) never said SA folks get a summer break or that students are people we need to get away from (in the narrative that she is wrapping – again, it is normal to enjoy time periods with a smaller caseload). They would not listen to other perspectives.

As one SAPro said – it’s a meme, not a minfesto.

manifesto

Finally, she made statements several times that her earlier tweet did not glorify long work hours:

glorify no

new girl-thats not true

V. And then?

Again, Kimberly defended herself from the high-profile researcher. SGR’s response is condescending and rude to the extreme.

sgr next 3.PNG

VI. Are we done yet?

Sadly, no. SGR starts retweeting her followers who also issue critiques of the meme. Then she says something that is so hyperbolic, one must imagine she understands comedic devices:

sgr 4.PNG

A reminder: It is still Kimberly, the entry-level SAPro, who is still connected to all these tweets, but also a few other student affairs folks (mostly entry level, some mid-level, mostly white, diverse along LGBTQ+ and class backgrounds) who have now critiqued SGR’s critique of the defense of the critique (tired yet?).

Amazingly, SGR has connected the college retention problem to a meme and the desire for student affairs professionals (note: she is not a member of that community and holds a higher position in the hierarchy of the Academy) to enjoy a quiet summer. Either this is comedy or I question her research methods.

VII. But the Students!

While SGR kept saying the meme was about shaming students, she could only find one ‘student’ who found it shaming. And to be fair, they were a college administrator who graduated undergrad in 1995 and said “if they were a student” they would have been offended. That did not stop SGR from repeatedly quote-tweeting this person as a student in order to prove her point.

IMG-3965

Somehow an undergraduate student studying history did find their way to the conversation…but SGR dismissed their concern.

IMG-3961IMG-3968 Although, again, no actual students spoke up, SGR continued to force the narrative to say that students did speak up and no one listened. Perhaps she was including herself as a student of the world, for we all never stop learning?

twitter no students spoke up

VIII. The Next “Hot Take”

After multiple critiques from higher education professionals (again, many hold a marginalized identity and are critiquing SGR’s capitalist perspective on higher ed), she then has the audacity to redirect the narrative around how it is the folks critiquing her who are privileged – not the nice cis white woman making a nice salary with national recognition….

sgr5

This is where the narrative starts to turn. Despite multiple student affairs professionals (again, the community in which SGR has inserted herself to tone police their lived experiences) describing the negative impact of her tweets, SGR has positioned herself to be the “Good Person” in this dialogue. Worse, she is taking a systemic issue of political support for higher education and placing the blame on the folks with lesser privilege than most who work on the front lines of colleges each day. And the ultimate insult? Stating that students struggle because entry-level folks are advocating for themselves…many of whom were just recently a struggling student and now work to support struggling students.

math.gif

I tweet at her, because I believe she is coming from a great deal of privilege on the matter.

response to me.PNG

Fun fact, but running a university center  and saying you oversee 11 staff is an administrator role; it is common for some faculty to have dual roles. But identifying as an admin doesn’t fit with the narrative, so she rejected it in two tweets. She also never addressed her privilege or that there are multiple ways of understanding so she should listen.

IX. Changing the Narrative

mute.PNG

By Tuesday night, SGR stopped responding to (most) SAPro critics and posted that she muted folks. Interestingly enough, she posted a quote from Brené Brown “If you’re not in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.”

This implies that SGR is the one doing the ‘real work’ and that these entry-level Student Affairs professionals are not. You know, the ones supporting sexual assault survivors living in their residence hall, holding conduct hearings for students who make minor and major mistakes, advisors who connect their students to food pantries, coordinators who help their first-generation students navigate the complexity of the institution. You know, those people.

Towards the end of the ongoing Twitter dialogue on May 30th, SGR attempted to change the narrative even further by…outright lying. Once again, the energy was directed at the newer professional that originally was quote-tweeted by SGR. Carefully read Kimberly’s post…

twitter - kimberly 1 Now see what SGR said when she quoted Kimberly’s tweet…twitter- where did i say snowflakes

If I was the New York Times writing about this like they write about Trump, I’d say something vague like “she said a falsehood”. Since I’m not, I’ll just say: this is an actual lie. Which is very odd and I cannot understand her behavior here, except to make the narrative about mean student affairs professionals who hate nasty little students like our names are Gollum and she’s the White Wizard (but surprise! definitely Saruman).

X. Actually, It’s About Legislators

 

Apparently, the new concern is legislators. What if they see this? *hand-wringing ensues*

chloe response leg

Now, not only is the meme responsible for student retention, but also our own working conditions. See Chloe with the swell response above.

leg 55

I explained in a Twitter thread using my knowledge in this area on how how SGR has really created a strawman argument around legislators and this meme.

XI. Victimization Narrative & Gaslighting Others

We often see this in conversations on social justice topics involving white women – they cry and play the victim (see: When White Women Cry: How White Women’s Tears Oppress People of Color by Dr. Accapadi) as a defensive tactic when someone points out they did something wrong. Although majority of SGR’s critics were white (many SAPros of color stated that they already knew how this would play out; whiteness is predictable), there were still a number of folks of color, especially women of color, and especially Black women who critiqued SGR.

victim

Despite all the evidence to the contrary, as has been painstakingly detailed above…SGR doesn’t believe she shamed anyone. In fact, she is a hero to stand up to such a hurtful meme. These silly SAPros decided to make it about themselves.

Further, she keeps retweeting her supporters (just a few, and all seemed to be faculty with no connection to student affairs) who honestly misrepresent the issue and the student affairs professionals who are frustrated at the tone policing and inability to have their full humanity exist.

mischaracterize

Again, they all play into the narrative that SGR is a wonderful person/expert and truly the victim in this dialogue so she retweets them.

annie responseRepeatedly, SGR played the victim. Her earlier tweets conveyed her sense of superiority as she was rude and insulting to the original entry-level pro she responded to – she demonstrated quite carefully how she believed she cared more.

response to kristen

As @itsmewhiteman and others pointed out, folks were just repeating her previous statements back to her.

victim 500

Again, she maintains the narrative that folks are lying about what she said (when they only repeat her statements) and plays the smallest fiddle in the world that she cannot share her reality…despite not allowing folks with much less privilege than her be able to share their own truths.

Then when someone questioned how/why she does 80 hours of week per week, again she maintained the victim narrative and does not hold the self-awareness to see how she has committed baseless attacks against quite a few folks in the conversation.

baseless attack

Her perception of what took place was very different from almost everyone else. Take note of the words she uses in the next set of tweets: “dragged me”, “mob scene”, she didn’t “hit no one”, and “punching bag”:

cliff notes

didnt hit no onefalse statements

Another example:

wow

This is just one tweet from a very good thread, with great work done by Jennifer to engage SGR and help her understand the difference between intention v. impact. Unfortunately, Sara was unwilling to learn or admit she did wrong. Instead, she once again painted herself the victim of a violent scenario.

Then, when another scholar held SGR accountable on her maintenance of power structures, she acted like she had no idea what was going on. It is a tough leap of logic to believe that SGR missed the repeated statements of folks mentioning they were younger professionals and that she did not make assumptions about profile photos considering she later misgendered someone. But, this ‘playing dumb’ response works to uplift her as a victim and not an instigator:

twitter- younger professionals.jpg

Finally, it all comes back to the original newer Student Affairs professional that SR quote-tweeted at the beginning of this dialogue:

apoligize 5000apologize 66006006

SGR fundamentally doesn’t understand the purpose of the #sachat hashtag, which is community building and drawing attention to interesting or hot topics in student affairs and higher education. To say that Kimberly, who had politely engaged with SGR while the latter was rude, instigated a mob is…well, quite inaccurate.

Finally, Kimberly responds:kim

But SGR did not respond to this.


To continue reading, please see Part 2. The latter half of the essays explores the reactionary tactics to protect white womanhood and how the dialogue went into a downward spiral that included transphobic and racist actions.

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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:

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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.

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

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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.

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