The U.S. Department of Education issued an apology after an outcry materialized over an apparently offensive Tweet.
The Tweet was sent from the Federal Student Aid office of DOE and contained a picture of a captioned scene from the movie Bridesmaids that depicts Kristen Wiig's drunken character saying, "Help me, I'm poor." Accompanying the picture was a message from the office, "If this is you, then you better fill out your FAFSA."
FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which determines students' eligibility for federal grants, loans, and scholarships.
The office yanked the Tweet off the internet after a few hours, but not before tons of people took to social media to lambast the organization for making fun of poor people. Monroe Community College President Anne Kross wrote, "Unbelievable. Take this down. … Everything about this is tone deaf and just wrong."
DOE agreed, according to Inside Higher Ed:
We apologize for this insensitive Twitter post, which flies in the face of our mission of opening doors of opportunity for every student," said Dorie Nolt, [DOE] spokeswoman. "It was an ill-conceived attempt at reaching students through social media. We are reviewing our process for approving social media content to ensure it reflects the high standards we expect at the U.S. Department of Education."
But if DOE's goal is to get as many desperate millennials to sign up for FAFSA as possible, isn't this just speaking to them in their own language? As blogger Liz Gross points out, many college applicants have used that very same "insensitive" language to describe themselves. In fact, #helpmeimpoor—an explicit reference to the same movie—exists in Twitter space and is used by debt-weary students to both laugh and vent about their situations. As Gross writes:
I'm a social media and market research strategist for a student loan servicer. My target audience is very close to that of @FAFSA—it's the same students just a few months or years later, they've gotten their loans and are thinking about paying them back. I'm very familiar with the conversation that happens online regarding financial aid and student loans. I've considered sending a similar tweet. Here's why.
The tweet reflects the language of the audience.
#HelpMeImPoor is commonly used by students when they refer to their struggles paying for college. This exact meme has been used by students in that context. These are their words. Here's just one example.
I have a different take.
The cost of college has spiraled of control, plunging students into a collective trillion dollars of loan debt. It's a self-feeding loop: The federal government launches a dedicated campaign to persuade desperate students to borrow more and more money, which in turn empowers universities to keep raising prices.
Isn't the idea that the government has any business convincing students to fall further into debt—sticking taxpayers with the bill if anything goes wrong—the truly offensive notion here?