I don’t think I am worthy of an encomium, but I do think it is cool one of my WGS students thinks I am. With Tyler’s permission, sharing this super-sweet essay.
Nevertheless, She Persisted: A Professor’s Perseverance against Hate
Have you ever had a professor who caused an uproar on social media with just one post? Dr. Colleen Clemens of Kutztown University did, but this uproar was not necessarily positive. Despite this, she would broadcast her strength and resilience to an entire network fighting to silence her, displaying an unending courage. Clemens has taught at Kutztown since 2010 and recently became the director of the Women & Gender Studies program in 2015. Much of her curriculum focuses on intersectional aspects of literature, feminist theory, and domestic and sexual violence. Her passion for education and activism has inspired countless students to explore gender studies courses and in turn expand the number of declared minors.
Leading classes like Women Writers Around the World, Clemens presents her students with profoundly intersectional texts, films, and ideas from Iranian and African cultures, offering insight to cultures not often discussed in western society. She encourages students to look at all sides of social and cultural issues, often citing author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “single story” concept, to help build an intersectional understanding of media. One of her favorite responses to hear in reaction to a discussion, or any of her published work, is, “I’ve never thought about it that way.” This focus toward sharing academic, analytic, and political thought with the general public makes her a powerfully inspirational educator and activist.
Yet, Dr. Clemens is far more than simply a teacher. She is an avid writer, constantly analyzing media and politics to challenge her thinking, as well as her teaching and interactions with students. That doesn’t necessarily mean she only writes academically. In a 2015 interview conducted by a colleague, she addresses her desire to write for a public discourse: “I am very committed to the idea of being a public intellectual—somebody who writes for a larger audience.” While she sees her academic work as very important, it is just as paramount for her to “create actual change in hearts and minds.” This sentiment is prevalent in her activism.
Clemens often attends conferences in the Lehigh Valley area, and at other colleges, to share new projects or other new findings in cultural discourse. She has also visited high schools around the area to discuss intersectionality with students, seeking to jumpstart their conversations concerning social issues. Clemens views her role in teaching as activism. As the head of the Women and Gender Studies program, she constantly empowers her students to remain vocal within their society and community.
She also helps guide program minors toward careers and internships in the social justice field. Clemens is the acting director of the Kutztown chapter of HerCampus, a blog where many student writers discuss political and social issues on a national platform. Her energy and presence as an educator inspires her classes to take up action and challenge the world around them. That is how to be a powerful leader. However, it was her perseverance amidst online attacks from Twitter users following the Sutherland Springs church shooting that sets this activist apart from most.
On November 6th, 2017, Dr. Clemens found herself frustrated after the mass shooting in Texas. News pundits were focusing primarily on Devin Kelley’s “mental illness” as the cause of the tragedy. She noted a connection between toxic masculinity and the increasing frequency of mass shootings in 2017, yet no one seemed to be talking about it. So, she took to Twitter, a platform which she often utilizes to share and amplify the voices of fellow writers and thinkers. She composed a simple, yet powerful tweet: “Toxic masculinity is killing everyone. REPEAT. / Toxic masculinity is killing everyone. REPEAT. / Toxic masculinity is killing everyone. REPEAT.” The post was then shared around the Twitter-sphere and Clemens paid no mind.
The next day, a reporter from the Washington Free Beacon contacted the professor with questions concerning toxic masculinity. Clemens answered them thoroughly and the piece was published later that night. The following day, the Daily Wire wrote a response article attacking Clemens and almost immediately after its publication, the tweets poured in. Hundreds of disparaging and threatening tweets were aimed at the professor and the school in general. When she arrived at school that Wednesday, the department chair informed her of an email he received from one of the attackers, claiming that Clemens was being divisive. They were calling for her resignation. The backlash was massive and instead of focusing on the concept of toxic masculinity, people chose to focus on her character as their target. The tweets became so overpowering that Clemens was forced to deactivate her account to cease the frenzy.
While this sort of attack of character may leave some devastated, Clemens would not take any of it lying down. She continued to write articles about toxic masculinity on several blogs, her Facebook, and Instagram. She used the incident to generate discussion with her classes and further a constructive discourse. Eventually the tweets quieted down and the tantrums stopped, but Clemens’ fire had not ebbed. She closed out the Fall semester more resilient than ever. Kutztown students took to their social media platforms to tell her story, amplify her voice, and discuss toxic masculinity with their peers. Instead of allowing this situation to define and defeat her, Dr. Clemens pushed onward and harnessed the rage to challenge the issues we face in masculine power structures. She remained strong and composed, keeping her head up and doing what she does best, teaching and changing the world. There are so many outstanding teachers across the world, but Dr. Colleen Clemens stands as an extraordinary example of someone who can educate, inspire, and challenge culture in profound ways.