In Backyards & Between Friends: When Politics Get Personal
I am very, very upset. About my backyard. I am asking for your help making sense of it all.
Basically, I’m going to summarize all that’s been going down, as concisely and to-the-point as possible (we’ll see how that goes), and make two more personal notes. Then, I’d like to pose some questions I’d really like feedback on. I hope you’ll respond.
First, what happened in my backyard:
- I am a doctoral candidate at a public, state-funded university – in a liberal area, but with some surrounding less liberal (more… libertarian) areas. We are also in the midst of a significant financial crisis, with funds being revoked from the state.
- I am one of two graduate student representatives to the President’s Commission on the Status of Women. The first line in our mission statement says we are committed to advocacy and education. I am also on the executive board of our graduate student senate.
- This Commission had been posting articles and petitions regarding recent controversy in women’s health and contraception on our Facebook page.
- Two weeks ago, an op-ed ran in a local paper. This paper has consistently vilified my university as basically wasting tax dollars to preach liberalism and probably make everyone gay. Who knows. But you get the picture. This particular editorial lashed out at the Women’s Commission, saying it was a waste of money, seeing as women are no longer barred from faculty positions or admission. It then lit into our Facebook page, making inflammatory remarks and misconstruing the posts made there (you can imagine, I am sure).
- Within a day, one of the women who admins the Facebook page was called on the phone and instructed to suspend said page immediately. There was no further dialogue or discourse. The official statement was “all Facebook pages will be suspended while [the University] drafts Facebook policies for University pages.”
- The only other page to come down was under the direct administration of the person who made the phone call to have the Women’s Commission page suspended.
- We had a meeting yesterday afternoon that made clear the following: 1.) The University Administration will hide behind the defense that “there were concerns about the Women’s Commission page for some time, and it was simply terrible timing with the editorial”, and 2.) the Administration had no desire to be forthcoming on which posts it found inappropriate, nor address its handling of the situation – e.g. no dialogue or conversation – only repeating that they “tried” to get in touch with Commission chairs to discuss the situation before forcing the suspension (yet, clearly e-mail and other correspondence occurred without engaging any of the Commission members).
- Fortunately, the end result was
determiningreviewing University bylaws and practice regarding Facebook pages (which were already in place, actually. Didn’t feel like mentioning them? No?). The Commission Facebook returned live that evening – and, really, it will be of higher quality as a result of this conversation (despite some significantly difficult moments where women on the Commission were shut down, or invalidated, and our greater concerns regarding the University’s treatment of us as Commission were ignored.)
Now. This also happened:
- The day of the Facebook policy (or whatever) meeting, the University student paper ran a piece about the Commission page being suspended. I posted it to my graduate student senate Facebook with the title “This happened.” It did post as “XXX [Graduate Student Senate]” and not as a post by me personally because I am an admin on the page.
- I also had a graduate senate meeting that day. Just prior to the meeting, I raised this issue with the other people on the exec board (I am the only woman). The general response was that it was inappropriate for a President’s Commission to even have an open Facebook page, and that we should not be posting things as we did. One other exec member felt the only appropriate use of our time is to have Commission meetings where we discuss issues, draft official statements, and provide only those to the greater public. Another exec felt that the page was “spammy” and didn’t like that we had so many links going up (keep in mind, this was over the period of time from the Issa
CircusHouse Committee Hearing to Rush Limbaugh calling Sandra Fluke a slut).
- This evening (one and a half days later), I received an e-mail from my graduate student President “checking in” with me about the “Facebook fiasco”. In it, he said “other exec members” (there are six of us, again I’m the only woman) had concerns about what we post on the graduate student senate page – the reason given was we didn’t have a Facebook policy. I was not in the room for any of these discussions, I was not informed personally of any problems or concerns, nor did the other exec members let our President know which posts they had problems with.
- On review of our Graduate Student Senate page, it is clear that we only post about events happening on campus – except for my post about the Women’s Commission page coming down. No one has ever voiced concern, and no exec member has had a problem until I did that.
A few personal notes:
- Along with other women on campus and on the Commission, we want to make something positive out of this. We felt hopeful we’d have support from other Commissions (People of Color, LGBTQ+, and Disability) in terms of speaking out about the University’s handling of this. I also thought we would have the support of the Student and Faculty Senates. I am no longer certain of that support.
- While all of this has been incredibly discouraging and frustrating, it is the e-mail I received tonight that hurt the most. Part of it is being able to deal with shit from people *out there* in the world – and then having to realize it’s in your own backyard, where you thought you were safe. However. What really does it is … all of the dudes on the graduate student senate are my close friends. I love them. I don’t want to see them in this light. It breaks my heart to understand the disconnect, this excuses, the inability and unwillingness to comprehend and understand, is not just out there – but among my friends. I’ve already told our senate President that I won’t engage this conversation over Facebook and will just go with what they want to do. Not because I think it’s right – but because I just feel like I can’t fight about this with my friends. I know, I know, I should. I know. But… it just breaks my heart to have to see them like this. On this side. Arguing with me about this. Not understanding. Not hearing me. Thinking it’s just about a Facebook page or it’s just a post or calm down what’s wrong with you. I just. can’t.
So. Given all of that. I have some questions I hope you can help me to think about. I really want to hear what people think who are not on this lil college campus, who aren’t so close. Who have, perhaps, greater experience with this.
- Where is the place on university campuses for advocacy? Should universities be taking a stance on particular issues – especially given the fact that the issue itself isn’t really political but has been made so by someone else? Should a commission, that is clearly and officially tied to the University President’s office, be allowed to speak out, educate, or advocate for specific issues? Should official student political bodies speak out? (As a side note, we do draft resolutions regarding legislative action by our state government, vote on them, and post them publicly).
- Any thoughts on the role of social media for institutions of higher education in today’s world? Is the appropriate place for advocacy on college campuses in official meetings where official resolutions and statements are drafted – or should we be embracing and utilizing social media?
- On a more personal note, any advice for dealing with this in those you love? I understand a life lesson is coming face-to-face with this shiz in your own backyard and among your own friends. Really, I should have learned this lesson when I came out. But what are some thoughts about engaging dialogue with friends? About attempting to bridge this disconnect? Any thoughts on it being particularly difficult around women’s issues? What I mean, I feel this is especially difficult because the men around me do not see the issue and probably, deep down, don’t believe women have issues to be complaining about… know what I mean? Am I alone in this experience with close friends or family? How did you deal?
- How do we make this positive? How do we apply this lesson towards achieving equality at a greater scale? I am fully aware that marginalized groups can often be at war with one another, fighting about who has it worse, and who has more Shit Street Cred. How can we engage allies, and make this into lessons we can come together on? Moreover, I am seriously concerned that groups I assumed were allies, simply because we’re all in the shit together, also don’t believe feminism to be valid any longer – but may be unwilling to actually say so, but may still undermine women in more subtle ways or ignore it when others do. How do I deal with this? How do I encourage the other Commissions and my friends to see this is an issue for all of us, that we should be united on?
That’s it. That’s where I’m at. I feel very isolated and shocked by how personal this has become, and am having trouble making sense of many things or how best to move forward. I feel fundamentally and deeply disheartened. Any thoughts?