Monday, January 09, 2012

About that Ackerman Girl...

Hell hath no fury like a pissed-off NYU student.

Check out the email trail of Sara Ackerman, who attempted to refuse the ethnographic assignment her Society and Cultural Analysis professor, Caitlin Zaloom, gave her at the famously pricey downtown Manhattan college. After the fact, Ackerman launched a very public crusade against the professor, who allegedly "forced" her to fulfill her academic obligation. She also takes on the "unappealing underbelly of NYU bureaucracy" in her correspondence. Ackerman's efforts have earned her indefinite academic suspension from NYU. Just yesterday, she kvetched posted on her Facebook Wall that NYU has  (unsurprisingly) terminated her student email address. 

The offending assignment: to go to Zuccotti Park and report on Occupy Wall Street.

Ackerman's refusal was based in her stated fear for her safety but from her screed, it seems she also had some political disagreement with OWS. But she did actually go and in one of her emails, to NYU President John Sexton, she describes the following:

Although it went against my core values, moral beliefs, and also made me feel unsafe, I ultimately did go to Occupy Wall Street with my class group——-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.——just to see if I was being as melodramatic as Professor Zaloom made me feel I was.***I won't go into detail here, but let me just tell you that if anything, I had previously underestimated how awful Occupy Wall Street was, and I left the park feeling as though I had escaped an extremely dangerous—-and even, life-threatening—-situation
As someone who has reported on OWS for the Jerusalem Report (also, see the post above with my most recent article), I have to wonder at her description. Grungy is probably the most accurate description of the encampment. Life threatening? Um....hardly, unless you are fatally allergic to the sight (and scent) of people who have not showered in a month. Actually, come to think of it, I was followed by a guy who taunted me with "F*(k You!!!" for about 20 minutes for passing on the opportunity to share my email address with him but I was no more threatened by him than by the prospect of impending rain.

Taking full advantage of the existence of the Internet, Ackerman makes her long, rambling and disturbing emails available to the public through a website called NYULocal.

She seems to imagine herself as conducting some sort of expose against Professor Zaloom and NYU. The only problem is that what emerges is the portrait of someone who is seriously deranged.

She calls for the firing of her professor, proclaims that she "knows people" and threatens the university with exposure via the media:

****President Sexton, you have already been alerted to all other details of the situation via the emails I have been cc'ing you on over the last 3 months, and you have yet to do anything for me.****Now would be a good time to step in—-unless of course, you still think that I am bluffing about going to the press—remember, I know people—close family friends, in fact—who work for:1. WSJ2. The NY Observer3. NYT4. The Washington PostI have already written the op-ed, and a draft has been approved by one of the reputable newspapers listed above.

In this op-ed, I name you, Dean Richard Kalb, and Mary-Louise Pratt——all those people who are meant to have some power to check on Professor Zaloom, and all of you have profoundly failed in this regard.
What Ackerman does here is such profoundly CRAZY PERSON behavior that reading the emails, I found that I was holding my breath. Yes, I can understand why observers of this situation have branded her entitled or spoiled. In her emails, she paints herself not only as the nightmare student but as a future employee or girlfriend/spouse whose default mode is vindictive attack. Obviously, any attempts to brand her undoing specifically ethnic are deplorable, as Jewish girls, even affluent ones, hardly have the monopoly on entitled, obnoxious behavior.

Giving her the benefit of the doubt, I will say that the poor kid has flipped out completely. The irony, of course, is that she has proven herself to be far crazier and possibly dangerous than any of the OWS denizens.

In her quest to take a principled stand, Sara Ackerman has become a public laughing stock. The drama is reminiscent of the moment when Britney Spears shaved her head and had her very public meltdown and the media was there to record every pathetic moment. The difference here is that Ackerman is training the camera on herself and asking everyone to tune in. In addition to the public emails, she is masterminding much of the publicity through her Facebook Wall, which weirdly features links to the cornucopia of articles and blogs that proclaim her utterly batty.

As the mother of two college graduates, I watch in complete bafflement, wondering WHERE ARE HER PARENTS? Why haven't they trundled her off, far away from a laptop or Internet access in an effort to staunch the bleeding out of her reputation as a sane person? Have they even seen her Facebook Wall? If they are not "friends" they should send her a request ASAP because she seems to be building her FB friend list right now in an effort to promote her cause. Ackerman's Facebook Wall is simply chilling. Upon it, she is chronicling her own undoing, losing it more and more every day. Perhaps she hasn't noticed but she has very little support from her "friends." Only a few have publicly offered support.

There have been some anti-establishmentarian, Obama-hating sorts who are giving her a cyber High Five. Their encouragement reminds me of the bloodthirsty cheering that goes on at cockfights. With friends like these...

To quote the concerned young person who granted me access to Ackerman's wall, only a short while ago "she appeared perfectly normal." Now, a whole community of flesh and blood friends -- many of them Greater New York area Jewish Day School alum -- are watching the slo-mo car wreck that is Sara Ackerman's life.

The good ones care. Everyone else is simply gawking.


Bad Bunni said...

As a former nyu prof, I've been following the story closely. While initially I thought she was cracking under pressure and/or suffering from the onset of mental illness, her fb statuses (which you can find at ) make me think more "entitled rich brat with no concept of how to behave when she can't get her way." There's a part of me that thinks she isn't so much crazy as just not accepting the reality of the situation, the scope of this incident. I find it's pretty common for students to send me really rude emails without fully processing that I will read it and respond. They just write it and send it off without thinking about the consequences.

The irony is one of the main courses I teach is business writing in which I try to hammer home to students how to write a professional and respectful email.

She-Ra, Princess of Power said...

Hi Bad Bunni,

Yeah, it seems there is quite a bit of that. I often find myself morphing into one of those "kids these days!" social observers because the outrageous entitlement of this generation, now coming of age, often leaves me breathless.

Thanks for writing!

Rich said...

I'm not an NYU student, alum, or even a resident of NYC, and this is the first I have heard of this incident. This young lady, frankly, sounds ignorant to me. I can only imagine what her newfound "friends" would be saying if someone said they were this afraid of a Tea Party rally. She is making herself look very foolish.