Bruce Murphy
Back in the News

Rush To Judgment on UWM Lecturer?

Fire her! !38,00 people declare, after her Facebook post is misconstrued.

By - Jul 6th, 2020 02:00 pm
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Wisconsin Air Guard Lt. Col. Betsy Schoeller (left). Photo by Master Sgt. Philip Speck.

Wisconsin Air Guard Lt. Col. Betsy Schoeller (left). Photo by Master Sgt. Philip Speck.

UW-Milwaukee lecturer Betsy Schoeller is a former Wisconsin Air Guard lieutenant who has strong feelings about the culture of the military and how it handles sexual harassment.

And so, when it was reported that U.S. Army soldier Vanessa Guillen had been killed and suspicions had fallen on her fellow soldier, 20-year-old Aaron David Robinson, who later committed suicide, Schoeeller posted a comment on Facebook about the situation.

“On a private Facebook page for veterans, I saw the article about SPC Guillen’s death and was shocked, horrified, and sickened by the tragic loss of this beautiful woman soldier,” Schoeller wrote in a press release issued yesterday. “It was so brutal and so senseless. Senseless… I continued reading, hoping to find some meaning in what others were writing about the article.”

“That’s when I saw a posting written by Zach Bigger, who was clearly searching for meaning as well. He was asking questions about ‘how’ this could have happened, and ‘why’. I knew immediately how and why. Because of the continued culture of sexual harassment in the military,” Schoeller continued.

And so she responded to Bigger with this post: “You guys are kidding, right? Sexual harassment is the price of admission for women into the good ole boy club. If you’re gonna cry like a snowflake about it, you’re gonna pay the price.”

When asked on Facebook whether she was being sarcastic, she replied: “It isn’t sarcasm. This is the reality of the culture we live in if we want to serve our country.”

Schoeller’s point was not to defend sexual harassment in the military but criticize it. “I was giving voice to the messaging that women hear in the culture of sexual harassment: The message we receive from the culture is not only will you suffer from sexual harassment, if you squawk about it, you will suffer even more,” her statement explained. “Because it isn’t just the sexual harassment. That’s just the beginning. Then comes the agonizing decision about reporting. Or not reporting… Having to ultimately stand up to that culture of sexual harassment on your own. Adding suffering on top of suffering. Some endure continued harassment and assault, being forced to work with the perpetrator. Sometimes even death. The sexual harassment culture is still here.”

But in the rapid-fire rush to judgment that often occurs on Facebook and other social media, Schoeller’s comments were seized on as a defense of sexual harassment. A petition was started at Change.org by Emily Cruz calling for the UWM lecturer’s head:

“I speak on behalf of my fellow UWM students, staff, and community partners when I say that we want to see Professor Schoeller terminated from UW-Milwaukee staff,” Cruz wrote. “As a woman, and a student at UWM I feel unsafe knowing that we have professors who think the sexual assault of women serving in the military is justified. UW-Milwaukee claims to care about the safety of their students, therefore we demand and are holding UWM accountable to take action against Professor Betsy Schoeller.”

“Vanessa Guillen was raped and murdered by a junior soldier on base,” Cruz went on, and “UWM instructor and retired Air Force Colonel Betsy Schoeller has publicly stated she deserved to be assaulted.”

And to make it easy for people to complain, the statement also included contact info for Schoeller and six officials at UWM.

Like wildfire the condemnation spread and by noon Saturday “more than 20,000 people had signed the petition” calling for Schoeller’s firing, as Wisconsin Public Radio reported.

The response of UWM officials was to quickly sooth the angry mob and distance itself from its paid educator: “As the largest educator of veterans in the state of WI, UWM stands in solidarity with those opposed to violence against women, including those serving in the military,” the university wrote. “Under the First Amendment, the university cannot regulate the private speech of its employees, but UWM does not condone the comments made by Betsy Schoeller in her Facebook posting.”

All of which left Schoeller to try and repair the damage.

“I am shocked and saddened that my original post was interpreted out of context,” her statement noted.

“I do not believe in or support sexual harassment. Quite the opposite. I’ve seen the toll it takes on individuals and entire units. But I know it’s still here. Because SPC Guillen is not here.

“Again, I am so sorry my words were misinterpreted. I hope this message provides the context that was missing from my original Facebook posting.”

Those angry about Schoeller’s comment announced a “PEACEFUL PROTEST AGAINST PROFESSOR BETSY SCHOELLER @UWM” to be held Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at UWM Spaights Plaza. This was before Schoeller released her statement. 

Meanwhile the number signing the petition keeps growing, passing 138.000 people by late afternoon Monday.

Will the protest still be held? We’ll update this story if we learn more.

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Categories: Back in the News

4 thoughts on “Back in the News: Rush To Judgment on UWM Lecturer?”

  1. fisch.alec says:

    Thanks for posting. Really appreciate the further context and reporting.

  2. Thomas Martinsen says:

    Thanks, Bruce, for providing context for these unfortunate remarks. Irony is often misunderstood. Sarcasm makes people defensive. With or without context, Schoeller’s remarks seemed to be sarcastic. It appears that her intent was misconstrued.

  3. Edward Susterich says:

    Another example of the use of “social media” to offer a quick response to a subject matter that is in need of a more eloquent response. Given more context, Schoeller’s response is relevant and proper.

    Where is the outrage over inappropriate daily “tweets” from the White House?

  4. Dennis Grzezinski says:

    When I saw the posted comments of Ms. Schoeller, it was almost a no-brainer to recognize that she was not minimizing the misogyny in the military, but emphasizing how bad and widespread it can be. Emily Cruz should be ashamed.

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