I have received a number of emails about my last post from the students campaigning to have two Skidmore faculty members fired.
They were quite upset and indignant that I had not redacted all their names and monikers from the Instagram postings I published.
Apparently when you publish something on Instagram, the name of the individual posting (or their on-line moniker) appears in the upper left of their document.
I had overlooked the actual name of one of the authors of two posts. As a courtesy I redacted that person’s name.
In the other cases where those complaining had posted using aliases I made no changes.
The persons making these demands emailed me through the WordPress web program I use. I would not characterize the emails I have received as a charm campaign. One of them advised me that he would be consulting a lawyer regarding the matter.
All of them asserted that I was violating their privacy and that I was putting them in danger. The implication being I guess that someone from the right might be motivated to hurt them.
It seems odd to me that they should be so insistent on anonymity. The documents I published that included their names or their aliases are already on the web and available to anyone with a computer. I do not see myself as “outing” them. In the case of actual names, I redacted as a courtesy because I was hoping that on reflection they might reconsider the wisdom of both the purpose of their campaign (the firing of faculty based on simply attending a rally) and the manner by which they are running their campaign (it includes information that is demonstrably untrue).
There are a number of things striking about their emails to me. The first is the presumption that they can order me to remove their names.
Given the tone of their Instagram posts, I would have thought that they would be proud to have their names associated with their remarks. I am also surprised at their claim that having their names or monikers appear on the blog is suddenly a cause for fear. After all, they have already put their names out on the web in spite of the fact that they apparently believe that publicly taking on what they see as the alt-right may put them in danger. I am unclear why my posting should significantly increase the risk, if any, that they have already willingly taken on.
Ironically they have not been reluctant to post the names and pictures of their faculty targets. They attempted to get the faculty members’ names up on my blog by emailing them in a comment they wanted posted (I didn’t). They have broadcast where their targets work, and most importantly, they have contacted the employer of their targets and asked that the two be fired. They seem oblivious to the contradictions between their demands for privacy and safety for themselves and the real dangers they are willing to create for others.
Rethinking What All This Is About
It is disturbing how many of the letters and documents created and passed along on social media by these students contained allegations that are demonstrably untrue. In the private correspondence I received, one writer admitted that neither she nor the author of the original letter were ever students in the department of the the faculty members they were condemning nor had they taken any of their classes. Another student admitted that they were not at the July 30 protest but had passed on information about what happened that night. That information simply wasn’t true.
I am struggling to understand the behavior of these students. My impression is that they truly believe that events they describe actually occurred even though the allegations they make are demonstrably untrue. They seem to be untethered to reality.
What makes them construct these fantasies and pass them on? Is it the quest for celebrity status by being on the front lines of something exciting that is happening? Is it an attempt to exercise some sense of power and control in an increasingly hostile world by constructing one’s own reality?
Sadly it is not just students who exhibit this behavior, though. Their actions appear to be part of a disturbing national trend and not exclusive to any political party, age group, or social class .
It is unproductive to simply denounce these people, and I really do not have any easy answers as to why all of this is happening or how to change this behavior.
My personal response to this trend is to publish this blog. This blog tries to make sense out of events and create a space where people can comfortably and intelligently consider local issues.
As those who follow this blog know, it can be sharply critical of people and institutions but it is not mean spirited. People who have posted comments on this site using real email addresses, using language that is too strong, are accustomed to hearing from me with a request that they edit their submission and “dial it back.”
My hope is to create some space, however small, for honest and civil conversations.