ListServ Discourse: a New Platform?

We’ve all seen it (and muted it): the dreaded discourse chain of 30+ emails over the residential college ListServs.

If Princeton students are good at anything, it’s starting arguments in the strangest of places–dining halls, bathrooms, Terrace at two in the morning, even gmail.com. In light of an email advertising the Anscombe Society’s talk on redefining “traditional marriage” values, the WilsonWire ListServ exploded with twenty-nine responses, ranging from clips of American Dad to quotations of the University’s statement on inclusion. The Forbes and Whitman ListServs had similar responses.

“I was not expecting such a long back-and-forth when I sent the email,” said Thomas Clark ‘18, a member of the Anscombe Society. “I know this is a controversial topic but ListServs are also used to advertise many other controversial events.”

Responders threw around words like “hypocrisy” and “prejudice,” arguing back and forth about the nature of the talk with guest Ryan T. Anderson. Multiple responses against the talk linked to the GLAAD website, where a list of Anderson’s problematic statements on the LGBT community were compiled.

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“I notice that there are a lot of fliers that are for events on campus that really bother me, but I don’t do anything about them,” said David Herrera ‘17, who responded with the statement on inclusion. This, he said, is the “price” of living with those who have different viewpoints.

Clark noted that anybody who attended the talk with Ryan Anderson would have seen how “civil and respectful the entire event was,” adding that Princeton students have the ability to engage with a variety of viewpoints in an environment that encourages freedom of expression.

“A few people sent private messages to me in reference to the email I sent, which I appreciated,” Clark said. “What I did not appreciate was the use of ListServs for mere snark without actually engaging intellectually with the issue.”

The ListServ discourse was indeed snarky, whether the response was outraged or as simply put as “take this sh*t back to Facebook.”

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“I admittedly think ListServs are a bad forum for discussion,” said Mitchell Bast ‘20, who responded to the WilsonWire email. “People don’t tend to take the discussion seriously, nor do they like being spammed with emails.”

The question remains why these backlashes never tend to be the result of liberal-leaning talks or events.

“I don’t think that the people who respond to ListServ emails are representative of the student body as a whole, and I think it’s important to have alternative perspectives thrown in as well,” said Richard Chang ‘17, who responded to the Forbes Innformer in defense of the talk. He added that it’s important to maintain a space for those with moderate or conservative opinions.

“The discussion likely won’t change anyone’s mind, but having that sort of public conversation provides for a wider range of discussion,” said Micah Herskind ‘19, who responded to the Forbes Innformer email with an offer of “progressive christian love.”