Incoming Boston University Assistant Sociology Professor Saida Grundy has drawn condemnation for racially insensitive tweets—white males are a "problem population," she wrote—and for derisively taunting a critic on Facebook. That critic, Meghan Chamberlin, self-identified as a survivor of rape during a Facebook argument over Patricia Arquette's infamous Oscars speech, but Grundy mocked her anyway with lines like "go cry somewhere since that's what u do," and "#whitegirltears," according to Fox News.
Grundy's remarks were objectively nasty, but they were also grossly insensitive, given Chamberlin's situation. Still, an important question remains: Did Grundy read what Chamberlin had written before she responded, or was the professor oblivious to the fact that she was mercilessly berating a survivor of rape?
Boston.com reporter Charlotte Wilder initially concluded—based on Chamberlin's own statements—that Grundy probably didn't know, before updating her post in light of an additional statement. The post was mildly critical of Fox News:
The woman Grundy is accused of trolling told Boston.com Tuesday afternoon that she didn't think Fox News got the story right. But she called back Tuesday evening, after speaking with a Fox News reporter, to say she did believe Grundy was aware that she had been raped when the professor argued with her online.
This much is not in dispute: Grundy got in an argument online with Meghan Chamberlin, a woman who is a survivor of sexual assault. According to Grundy's friend, Frank Miller, Grundy didn't know when she argued with Chamberlin that Chamberlin had ever been assaulted. …
Grundy declined to speak with Boston.com about her response to Chamberlin's comments. Fox News and Maxim Lott, the author of the article, did not respond to requests for comment. …
But Miller says Grundy responded to Chamberlin without clicking to read her full comment, and missed the context in which Charmberlin explained that she had been raped.
Grundy wasn't trolling a "rape victim," Miller says: She was arguing with a woman she didn't know had been raped.
"It blindsided her," Miller said. "She was like what? Who was raped?"
Wilder also spoke with Chamberlin; that interview produced some bizarre quotations:
When Boston.com first spoke with Chamberlin Tuesday, Chamberlin said she believed Grundy.
"I want brains like hers not in just higher education," Chamberlin said about Grundy. "I wish we could have that open-mindedness and critical thinking in more places. I would like it my kids' elementary school."
But in her later phone call to Boston.com, she said she believed that Grundy was aware that she had been raped when the argument took place.
Even with the additional hedge from the later phone conversation, Chamberlin comes off as more pro-Grundy than one would expect after reading the Facebook exchange.
I spoke with Chamberlin myself. She said those quotes were deprived of context—making her appear inaccurately sympathetic to Grundy—and invalidated by more current information. She told me that while she believes Grundy's perspective has value, she wasn't asserting that Grundy herself was the best representative of that perspective.
Chamberlin now believes that Grundy "absolutely knew" about the rape when she made her comments. The professor has not apologized.
"She knew who she was talking to," said Chamberlin. "I'm sickened that she gets away with getting to say nothing to me."
Still, Chamberlin added: "I don't want her to lose her job."
Chamberlin wants Wilder to take out her entire quote.
Wilder told me in an email that she believes the updated story accurately reflects the state of affairs:
It's as we explained in our story—Meghan Chamberlin said one thing in the afternoon, and then called back at night to say she had changed her mind.
The story with her original comments had been live for more than four hours at that point, so we decided the best option was to update it with her saying she had changed her mind. We also added a prominent note at the top of the story pointing out that it included additional new comments from Meghan Chamberlin.
Personally, I can't be certain of what Grundy knew or didn't know—and either way, I share Chamberlin's opinion that it would be wrong for Boston U. to fire the professor. Grundy should be free to share her views, even controversial and confrontational ones, without fear of institutional reprisal.
But I can't help but wonder how effective a teacher she will be. Angrily berating anyone who expresses disagreement isn't a good approach on Facebook, and it certainly isn't a good approach in the classroom.