When I Was Trolled, My Institution Got It RightRoundup
tags: far right, academic freedom, Internet Culture, trolling, outrage campaigns
Susan M. Shaw is professor of women's, gender and sexuality studies at Oregon State University.
I have engaged in online public scholarship for the past several years. I write about issues of gender, race, sexuality and religion. I’ve received a few angry emails about pieces, but I had never been trolled until a few weeks ago.
I wrote a piece based on a survey that found many white Christians deny climate science. In short, I suggested that the white church is complicit in the systems of racism and global capitalism that underlie climate change and its disproportionate impact on people of color.
Campus Reform and Breitbart picked up on the article and condensed its argument into “Oregon professor says white Christians cause climate change.”
Vile emails and phone messages rolled in for several days, as did messages to my administration -- and even one to the Oregon State Senate.
Shortly after my trolling, I read a piece by another trolled professor. The first paragraphs described my experience. I was horrified, then, when I read the rest of her story. Her institution threw her under the bus. She explains that she felt treated like a public relations problem to be solved rather than a respected colleague to be defended.
As I was going through my hellish experience, I knew I was fortunate that my university was responding with support. A terrible experience was made much more bearable because the faculty members and administrators here got it right in the ways they supported and defended me.
More and more, colleges and universities expect faculty members to engage the public. Online publications create accessible venues for professors to share scholarship about timely topics. Unfortunately, the online world also creates more opportunities for trolls to attack them.
If institutions want faculty members to do public scholarship, they must be willing to defend them when attacks come. A few weeks removed from my own experience, I recognize some ways institutions can act to support faculty members who are being trolled and would like to recommend them to others.