In Defense of Dr. Greer

One misstep doesn’t reflect how much she cares about students like Mollie and me.

by Anonymous

Staff Rust Belt  Contributor

During a recent appearance on MSNBC, Fordham professor Dr. Christina Greer called out Fox News for seemingly avoiding coverage of Cohen and Manafort. In doing so, she said that they were covering “a girl in Iowa” instead. That girl was Mollie Tibbetts, a psychology major midway through college. Passionate about mental health, Mollie loved jogging and joking around online. She seems, somehow, like the sort of girl from your hometown you stay friends with long after forgetting how you met in the first place, the rare person who’s unironically upbeat, whose Twitter bio still reads “I probably wanna hype you up and tell you you’re pretty.” Mollie reminds me a lot of girls from my own Small Town, U.S.A. And, last month, she was allegedly murdered by a man who is an undocumented immigrant.

Dr. Greer later clarified that Mollie was much more than some “girl in Iowa” – she was a “promising young woman,” and her death shouldn’t be used to push a political agenda. But, taken out of context, her words kept circulating. Breitbart, the Blaze, and other conservative outlets called her callous, and claimed that she didn’t care about Mollie’s murder. Sickeningly, some on the far right began to blame Mollie herself, seizing on her support of immigrants and opposition to Roy Moore to imply that her own more liberal politics led to her death. To some, Mollie was a casualty of “open borders.” For others, she was a casualty of no particular nationality, another name on an already long list, joining Nia Wilson, Mujey Dumbuya, and too many others in a sort of hallowed space, the girls whose names we fight to remember even as so many more names are added, the girls whose pictures we see on Buzzfeed and wonder for a split second if, in a different world, we would have been friends.

Mollie’s family has asked that they be allowed to mourn without others politicizing her death – in the words of one relative, “evil comes in EVERY color.” Ironically for those now clamoring to build the wall, her killer might in fact be a legal resident, and works for a conservative politician. But, beyond the political cat fights, I believe there’s a deep sadness shared by women our age on both sides of the aisle. Mollie’s story – the story of a girl who was followed by a man who killed her for saying no – feels so familiar. A girl I was friends with in high school was almost pulled into a pick-up while jogging. So many of us are followed on the street, and are cat called and mocked by men of every color. We’re still children when we’re taught to cover our shoulders at school, to never be out alone at night, the thousand and one rules of staying safe. Like Mollie did, we call out those who’d rather have us carry mace or cover up than hold men responsible. We make lists of witty replies and fake phone numbers for those who refuse to leave us alone. We laugh like we’ll be the lucky ones. But so many of us know, deep down, that we might not be the lucky ones, no matter what we do.

To some outside Fordham, Dr. Greer’s soundbite might sound flippant, and both she and the Fordham political science department have since apologized. For some at Fordham, meeting someone from a small town – let alone a small town in a red state – is a rarity. As one of Fordham’s relatively few students from outside the Northeast, I’d be lying if I said I’ve never heard catty comments about ‘flyover states’ from faculty or fellow students. But Dr. Greer was never one of those people. Her commentary on the Nightly Show was one of my first glimpses of Fordham, growing up over five hundred miles away. She showed me that – far from the aloof and uptight stereotype of many New Yorkers – professors at Fordham could be both funny and smart. She was well-versed in politics beyond the bounds of Brooklyn, and well-acquainted with professors in Southern Appalachia and elsewhere across the country. She respected girls like Mollie and me who dared to be liberal voices in our own rural, red state towns. When I applied to Fordham, Dr. Greer was a large part of the reason why.

Although I have yet to have the chance to take one of her classes, I’ve always admired Dr. Greer’s commentary, and her deep knowledge of a city I’m so new to. Even though I’m not one of her students, I value her voice, and I’m proud to go to a school with well-known pundits like her. She goes out of her way to encourage serious reporting from WFUV and other student-run outlets. I’ve always seen her as an advocate for girls like Mollie and me, encouraging us to comment on current events, to be engaged, to find our voice. But now Dr. Greer is one of too many women – especially black women – who have been bullied off Twitter, and called a b-tch and much worse by those ironically claiming her comments disrespect women.

To some, as an advocate for immigrants, professors like Dr. Greer are the problem. (Immigrants are, as a side note, statistically less likely to commit violent crimes than citizens born here.) But, arguably, some of the more vicious commentary towards Dr. Greer is similar to the mentality of those now mocking Mollie – namely, the idea that women provoke others by not speaking perfectly, or by being too “liberal.” To too many of those who refuse to accept our apologies or our imperfections, we are not individuals, but rather things to be easily sorted into ‘good’ and ‘bad,’ and those of us who are ‘bad’ should be silenced, shamed, shut down. In a deeply divided country, it’s all too easy to see the other side as the enemy. Worse, many seem to see Mollie as simply a silent martyr, without wondering what she would have wanted if she were still here. I may not have known her, but I believe she deserves to have her life celebrated, rather than have her death descend into partisan bickering, bringing more pain to those already in mourning. Regardless of where we stand on the political spectrum, it’s horrifying that anyone would call Mollie a race traitor, or wish death upon Dr. Greer’s children. It’s unacceptable that any woman be called some of what they have both been called. It’s shocking, but somehow it’s not surprising.

Even today, the U.S. is one of the ten most dangerous countries in the world for women. Claiming that undocumented immigrants are the main threat to women in America isn’t just prejudiced politics – it’s plain wrong. I can’t speak for Mollie, but those who knew her don’t believe she’d support some of the policies being pushed in her name. And, most importantly, girls who grow up in red states are more than some symbol of “real America.” We have our own voices and our own stories. Mourn girls like Mollie, but also listen to them, and don’t spread hate in her name. We’re more than just your martyrs, and we matter while we’re here.

The family of Mollie Tibbetts is currently asking for privacy and prayers. Donations to her family in this difficult time can also be given here.


2 thoughts

  1. Dr. Grier’s comments were certainly tone deaf. Like many commenters, it would have been ideal if she could have given respect to the Tibbetts family by waiting just a little bit to air her opinions, so the family would have some quiet space to grieve.

    The alleged murderer, Mr. Rivera, certainly deserves his day in court. Left out of your opinion piece is the fact that Mr. Rivera led investigators to Molly Tibbett’s body.

    I am more concerned about your shallow analysis of “red states”. Your piece seems to want to put red and blue states in a box. All states have both red and blue voters. The New York Times provides excellent analysis of county by county breakdown of election results. Look at the state of New York….there are plenty of red counties. You might note that Bronx County, NY actually had almost 38,000 people vote for Trump. That’s tens of thousands of Trump voters…are they invisible? Powesheik County, Iowa , where Mollie Tibbetts was from had plenty of voters for Clinton, 4300 to Trump’s 4904. So Mollie Tibbetts knew almost as many Clinton voters as Trump voters. Look at the maps of New York State and see how close the red counties are New York City? Find out if Staten Island is a red or blue county.

    Johnson County, Iowa, home of The University of Iowa, where Mollie Tibbetts was a student is always a blue county. Iowa itself goes back and forth between red and blue.

    What do you know about the “red state” of Iowa? Have you done any research to compare how progressive Iowa is to New York? Which state did away the death penalty first? Which state legalized gay marriage first?
    Maybe the faculty of Fordham University could compare how progressive their institution is to the University of Iowa? The University of Iowa started admitting women in 1855. When did Fordham University start admitting women? Not in 1855, not even close.

    I’ve driven through NY state before. There are plenty of small towns. Is a small town in a red state markedly different from one in a blue state? Can you describe how?

    My daughter is a junior at a seemingly less prestigious university than Fordham. She could easily discern the differences and nuances of red state/blue state anaolgies before she left high school. I’d be concerned if my daughter came home making sweeping red/blue state generalizations and was hearing about flyover country from her professors, especially at the price Fordham charges.

    Perhaps the faculty at Fordham needs to dig a little deeper than calling places like Iowa a flyover country, or minimizing their residents by calling them ” a girl from Iowa”. Maybe I am confused but maybe a political science major would want to learn about Iowa? Was Johnson County Iowa, or Iowa itself important to Barack Obama in 2008? Would that be something a political science major might want to know? Or do the “flyover” professors at Fordham leave that out?

    Before I go don’t forget our country can thank New York City for the gift of Trump.

    1. Thanks so much for this very thoughtful response! I confess that I am not from Iowa – in my own experience in a deeper red state, I have found it at times isolating to hold more liberal views. In small towns even in relatively blue counties, folks on the left sometimes try to hold their tongues, which leads to an impression of being a conservative monolith. (My family’s Democratic yard signs were recently stolen multiple times, so we were reluctant to bother replacing them yet again, as a relatively minor example.) That said, I completely agree that no region is a monolith, and Staten Island did indeed vote for Trump by higher margins than almost anywhere in my home region of rural Appalachia. My experience is not identical to Mollie’s, although I relate to her, and as a native of a county Trump won by roughly 50 points I agree completely that there are pockets of blue and pockets of red everywhere. I also agree that there are things I would change about Fordham, and I’m sorry if this article came across as putting Fordham or New York more broadly on a pedestal. That was not my intention, and thank you again for your time!

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