- Cody Swanson
- An indigenous psycho-liberal at Zucotti Park. The hungry look in her eyes signals, “I want to steal from you to pay for my anti-psychotic drugs.”
It’s a story that originated on NYU Local, New York University’s unofficial blog, and one that quickly went viral on Gawker late Friday afternoon. Sara Ackerman, an NYU senior, has become an unofficial folk hero/villain of next-level academic griping, as well as a patron saint of the absurd.
Ackerman, in seven arduous, bolded, underlined, italicized and qualified mass emails, threatened the NYU administration, including President John Sexton, the deans of the College of Arts and Sciences, and the entire Department of Social and Cultural Analysis with public protest and media exposés (from publications including the New York Times, the New York Observer and Wall Street Journal) if a professor of hers was not fired by Thursday of last week. Why? Ackerman was assigned to an ethnography on Occupy Wall Street, and did not want to put herself in a dangerous situation where students “were instructed to interview only those people who were participating in the OWS movement,” meaning, as she put it, “criminals, drug addicts, mentally ill people, and of course, the few competent, mentally stable people that stationed themselves at Zucotti Park.”
The highlights from this polemic are myriad and glorious. Ackerman wrote that although the assignment went against her “core values and moral beliefs” she went down to OWS “with two other young girls, who are quite attractive and thin, and don’t look particularly physically fit enough to take on a potential predator, rapist, paranoid schizophrenic, etc” and felt like she “escaped an extremely dangerous—and even, life threatening—situation.” Ackerman then bemoaned her lack of first amendment rights when she wrote that her TA gradually stopped calling on her.
NYU Local made the full emails available for download, and attempted to reach university administration for comment. While NYU has declined to discuss the fate of Ackerman’s academic career, it appears the crusade has continued on Facebook, with Ackerman posting in a note that of Thursday she had been “suspended” (unconfirmed) and, as of last night, had her NYU email account blocked from her access. That information was buried in a series of status updates, often blaming “PSYCHO-LIBERALS” for the evils of the world. She even asked for some help publicizing her cause, calling out (in vain, so far) to the likes of The New York Post, NPR, The Onion, The Colbert Report, Jon Stewart to spread the word. She hit up Rachel Maddow (“THIS IS WHAT IT’S COME TO,” she wrote) and Lady Gaga (“I WAS BORN THIS WAY—HELP ME BE FREE!”) too.
When the dust settles, this case will actually bring up a couple of important points. First, it highlights the degree of segregation by economic status in which this country is currently steeped. While Ackerman’s views certainly do not represent a majority of NYU students’ (many of her classmates have railed against her in comments on NYU Local, and don’t forget that there is an active NYU student organization in support of OWS), there’s no doubt that this kind of attitude is born of an extreme, and extremely privileged and sheltered libertarian bent. Ackerman herself conceded on Facebook that she considers herself a “spoiled rich kid,” and yeah, probably one that a stint in public school could have done some good. Her feat also draws attention to something that we’ve probably been too complacent about for too long—the “crazy” name-calling between political ideologies. Many of us are guilty of it when even we treat the GOP presidential race as an entertainment sideshow. Calling someone “crazy,” a “psycho-liberal,” or even a “psycho-conservative” can’t pass for actual civic engagement. Worse, often it fades, for liberal types especially, into the ether of cynicism and perpetual disillusionment.
Sara, if you’re reading this, here’s an example of an Occupy Ethnography, a protester profiling assignment that you probably could have plagiarized a while ago without having to face the mortal danger of the vicious, drooling psycho-liberals down at Zucotti. Enjoy.
Follow Sydney Brownstone on Twitter @sydbrownstone