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