Students protest lack of snow day with social media

The University received national attention in January when students took to social media to express their disapproval of Chancellor Phyllis Wise’s decision not to cancel classes despite a forecast of extreme cold temperatures.

The social media posts, mostly consisting of tweets on Twitter, started after a mass email was sent, which informed students that despite the negative 19 degree wind chill, classes would be in session. 

At the time, Robin Kaler, campus spokeswoman, said the University held classes because it determined that the weather would not cause a risk to student safety as long as they dressed for the weather and took appropriate measures.

Using the hashtag #f—phyllis, students posted racist and misogynistic tweets directed toward the chancellor. According to tweet tracking website Keyhole, there were more than 700 tweets sent under this hashtag, although some were deleted as the night went on.   

A subsequent Buzzfeed article highlighting the tweets made its way across the internet. 

Wise responded to the backlash in a blog post for Inside Higher Education later that week, saying that she was disturbed by the comments. 

“What was most disturbing was witnessing social media drive a discussion quickly into the abyss of hateful comments and even threats of violence,” Wise said in the post. 

Wise also mentioned that making an unpopular decision is part of the job of being a University leader. She garnered support from several Twitter users, as well as other University officials. 

“I fully support the chancellor’s decision to keep the campus open today,” said Senate Executive Committee Chair Roy Campbell at the time. “I’m fully confident that the chancellor was conscious of the issues concerned. I call upon all concerned faculty, staff and students to disapprove of these disrespectful comments from a few of our students.”  

The public threats sparked a need for change and self-reflection within the community, which led to a Campus Conversation in Civility meeting.

The event, #Onecampus: Moving Beyond Digital Hate, was held in the Krannert Center for Performing Arts and focused on the way social media impacts the way people interact. Several campus leaders attended, including former Student Body President Damani Bolden.

“We see it as an opportunity to provide the entire campus community to come together in response to what happened,” said Bolden, who issued a formal apology to Wise in a mass email to the campus.

At the event, students had a chance to voice their opinions, and the panel discussed race, discrimination and diversity in an open setting.  

“Other individuals’ incidents of racism or misogynistic comments are just as important as the comments that were directed at the chancellor,” Bolden said. “The more conversations like this that happen — it is my hope — the more tolerant we will become as a community.”

Not all students were involved in the social media outrage, including Luke Dobrovits, sophomore in FAA. 

Dobrovits trudged through the snow on the Quad at 4:30 a.m. on Feb. 5, writing out the words “Sorry Phyllis.” 

“The point of the message was just so students could see it on the Quad the next day,” Dobrovits said. “I didn’t really put much thought into it and didn’t think anyone would really think anything of it,” 

A picture of his message racked up 700 likes on Facebook and 300 retweets on Twitter and drew campus-wide attention. The writing took him three hours, but he hoped his message would atone for the students who had lashed out.     

“I don’t think it’s fair to say the University as a whole is racist and sexist, and only a small amount of students behaved that way. And even they just got swept up into the bustle of it,” Dobrovits said. “I feel many students acted immaturely, but the whole University shouldn’t be reflected in the actions of those few students. … As a whole, we are a lot better than what our actions have shown a few of us to be.”

Elizabeth Dye contributed to this report.  

Miranda and Bryan can be reached at [email protected]