A college professor is drawing a ton of criticism and harassment online, after tweeting about a dramatic display she once put on in front of students.
On Tuesday, Dr. Jessica Pabón—an associate professor of women’s, gender and sexuality studies at State University of New York at New Paltz—posted a message about the way she used to discourage students from engaging in improper email etiquette.
Responding to another educator who was complaining on Twitter about college kids not knowing how to address professors over email, Pabón wrote: “I would walk into class, throw students’ papers in the air, and walk out. Give them a moment to be like wtf just happened. Then I’d come back in and say ‘this is what it’s like when you email me without a salutation, explanation, or subject line.'”
People on social media seem to have been even more outraged by Pabón’s tweet than she claimed to be about no-context emails. However, Pabón’s critics didn’t just use Twitter to voice their disdain. Some people took their grievances to Pabón’s profile on RateMyProfessor.com, and started sharing negative reviews of her teaching style.
This led Pabón to issue an email to some students, requesting that they leave positive remarks on her RateMyProfessor.com page to counter all the criticism that was flooding the account.
“So—as if the world is not a stressful enough place—I’m being dragged on Twitter for a comment I made on Brittney Cooper’s thread about email etiquette. (It is a mini-story about a little performance I did while teaching a Performing Feminism course.) They are using this site called Rate My Professor as evidence—a public site where I do not fair [sic] so well,” the beleaguered professor wrote in her email. “A lot of you wrote in your evaluations that you enjoyed my class and teaching style. If you did, and you wouldn’t mind, I’d really appreciate some help turning that rating around. It’s all anonymous!”
Pabón’s efforts to save her rating on the review site didn’t fare well for her, either.
A number of people responded to that email, which was shared on Twitter on Wednesday, by dishing out even more negative ratings. Users on RateMyProfessor gave her low marks in teaching quality and high marks in difficulty. Many left comments about Pabón’s social media etiquette, alleging that she forces students to follow her on Twitter and “cares more about her weird Twitter drama than her actual class.” Others on the rating site wrote that Pabón was a “dismissive” professor and “doesn’t give clear instructions.”
It’s worth noting that, as Pabón wrote in her email, entries on RateMyProfessor are all anonymous, so there’s no way to know who actually left these comments.
Despite all the criticism though, there are some good reviews of Pabón on RateMyProfessor.com, from students who wrote that the educator’s classes were engaging and fun to be apart of. “She is encouraging and supportive. I always felt proud of work I submitted as she validated every point I made,” one user commented.
Some people also defended Pabón on Twitter—pointing out that there were teachers who were much more difficult to deal with.
“Ya’ll really dragging her just for that? There’s teachers who are actually abusers and yall go for this one? This is just misogynistic at this point,” one person tweeted.
Pabón, who authored the 2018 book Graffiti Grrlz: Performing Feminism in the Hip Hop Diaspora, told Newsweek in an email that her original tweet was taken out of context. The professor—who has taught at SUNY New Paltz since 2014—said that, despite how her story may have come across in however many characters on Twitter, the display was “purposefully exaggerated and performative, not at all punitive.”
She also clarified that the event occurred nearly five years ago and she has since done away with her email etiquette policy, which guided students on how to send classwork via email with properly titled attachments and other details.
All of the backlash has resulted in Pabón locking her Twitter account and she said that she’s had to remove personal posts after some people began questioning her Puerto Rican heritage and spreading a photo of her child on the Internet.
“The scope of the response was quite overwhelming in every sense of the word and certainly slowed down the pace of grading final projects, preparing for the new semester, and writing recommendation letters. I was managing the overwhelm until they started circulating the photo of my child,” she said in her email to Newsweek. “That’s when I felt the full weight of the backlash.”
Still, Pabón said that she isn’t letting any of this deter her from her job.
“I’m a first-generation scholar and I’ve chosen academia as a profession because as a queer woman of color, I know that when knowledge production is shared within analytical, inclusive, and creative spaces, it enables us to discover our pathways to liberation,” she said. “My goal as an educator is to guide my students in becoming leaders of the feminist movement and thought who are rooted by an intersectional commitment to justice. I am committed to an emancipatory pedagogy, which means in my classrooms the production of knowledge is understood as ‘the practice of freedom’—as an exchange between student, teacher, and society.”