Open note to W&L alumni on Facebook

Words have power—choose them wisely


Annalisa Waddick

Alumni attacking LGBTQ+ students online are disgraceful, opinions editor Annalisa Waddick writes.

Annalisa Waddick, Opinions Editor

It has recently come to my attention that there are some Washington and Lee University alumni who say nasty things online about current students. 

The fact that I have only just learned of these incidents speaks to my privilege. I am a cisgender white woman; these aspects of my identity protect me from the online harassment I’ll be detailing. Students who have different identities than I do and have been targeted by these alumni because of that fact have been aware of the situation for much longer, and have had to carry the burden of that knowledge around with them for months. 

My personal interactions with alumni have always been extremely positive, and I am lucky in that regard. I have interviewed alumni for class projects, attended group dinners with them, and chatted with alums in various in-and-out of class settings. I have been treated with respect in all of our interactions, the common bond of Washington and Lee attendance uniting us. 

This is not the way all alumni treat students, and it disgusts me. 

There is a Facebook group that exists supposedly for the preservation of Washington and Lee “tradition.” In actuality, this social media group is a dark pit of hate operating under the guise of preserving history. I don’t know about every single person in the 1,000-person group, but based on my reading of comments and posts, a large majority of members appear to be alumni. 

While I hold different beliefs from those in the group and ardently disagree with all of the posts, that is not the reason I am writing this article. I understand everyone is entitled to their opinion – no matter how ignorant and biased it may be — and if it was simply that, I would not feel the need to address it in such a manner. 

But it is not simply that. The page is a platform for hate, and the hate is specifically targeted at members of the LGBTQ+ community. Pictures and names of current LGBTQ+ students are posted, with mocking, ridiculing captions. 

I’ll say it again, because it is terrifying. Pictures and names of current LGBTQ+ students are posted. 

Long threads of comments pile up beneath the post, each one more condescending than the last. Pronouns are ridiculed and assumptions are made about financial status. Some of the things people say are so disgusting they make me feel physically sick — one deplorable alumni stooped so low into hell as to call a current student a “thing.” 

Do you know how pathetic you have to be to make fun of college students online as a middle-aged person? Do you know how embarrassing it is that your name is posted alongside your nasty comment, announcing loudly to the world that you have nothing better to do with your time than lurk on Facebook and hate on young strangers? 

Have you no sense of decency? Have you no shame? 

These comments are the definition of “punching down.” They are coming from people who are older, wealthier, and more socially powerful than the students they are attacking. There is a clear power imbalance in the dynamic, and it’s vile. Everybody knows it’s the oldest rule in the book that you can punch up but you can’t punch down — well, I guess everybody except these alumni. 

To the alumni thoughtlessly spewing such hurtful, horrific words: You should be ashamed of yourself. Your comments hurt, and your comments hold weight. You supposedly love this school, yet your words and actions go against everything Washington and Lee values: honor, community, respect. As a member of the Washington and Lee community, I am appalled; I cannot even imagine how it must feel as a student targeted. It is never too late to change course, and I beg you to think about the consequences of your actions. 

To the alumni witnessing these hateful, horrific things as social-media bystanders: Staying silent is a part of the problem. Your position as a Washington and Lee alum affords you power — use it. Report posts. Have conversations. Discourage hate and ignorance. 

Whether people like it or not, this university belongs to all of us. It is just as much mine and the students who were targeted as it is every alum’s. If people have a problem with that, fine. Live in your hate. But don’t take it out on students through hateful social media posts — you just look pathetic.