On Jan. 18, Drake University business marketing and business law student Mikayla Simpson posted screenshots on Facebook from Drake English professor Beth Younger’s Twitter account. The screenshots gained notoriety in the following weeks because they direct negative commentary toward Republican officials and Republicans in general.
Some of the screenshots show Younger using derogatory language toward Republican politicians, including Melania Trump and Joni Ernst. In another, she responds to a tweet about a man telling a woman that her being 27 makes her undateable with, “Men are trash.” Another controversial tweet reads, “I was just pondering how much hatred I feel towards all the republican assholes. They need to suffer.”
Conservative students at Drake have expressed outrage at the way in which Younger shared her political opinions.
“How is any conservative student supposed to feel comfortable and respected in an environment where professors LITERALLY say they have deep hatred for us and want us to suffer,” wrote Simpson in a Facebook post.
Jared Poortinga, a sophomore student at Drake University who identifies as conservative, is the one who originally found Younger’s twitter and shared it with fellow right-wing students at Drake. He said that even if Younger’s tweets did not violate any specific policies, her behavior has still been extremely problematic.
“When you are a professor at a higher education institution, you’re held to a higher standard,” Poortinga said. “You are teaching future generations of Americans. And with that, you should respect other viewpoints, especially ones that you don’t agree with.”
Conservative students are divided on what, if any, consequences Younger should face for this. Poortinga said that Younger has become a symbol of what he sees as Drake’s general bias against conservative and Republican students, and that this bias is what really needs to be addressed.
“I know that this professor is not going to be fired for this, nor do I really think she should be. But I do think that she should be reprimanded,” Poortinga said. “Something needs to happen here, because all too often conservative students feel completely outcast and [driven] out on Drake’s campus…Nobody should have to feel like they’re not accepted simply because they fall on one side of the political spectrum or the other.”
It is true that conservative and Republican students have repeatedly reported feeling marginalized or excluded on Drake’s campus.
In the 2019 Campus Climate Survey, 47 percent of all respondents indicated that they had “witnessed exclusionary, intimidating, offensive and/or hostile conduct within the previous year,” and 45 percent of those respondents said it was due to their political views. According to the DU What Matters 2019/2020 Campus Climate Assessment PowerPoint available on Drake’s website, the qualitative comments about this question frequently cited “the treatment of Turning Point USA as the example of harassment against conservatives they witnessed.”
While not mentioned by name, Younger was reprimanded publicly via a university-wide email from President Marty Martin on Jan. 27.
“The social media posts from a Drake faculty member that have been widely shared over the past week are in conflict with values articulated in our Statement of Principles,” Martin wrote in his email. “The odious nature of the expression in those posts can be, and has been, interpreted by some Drake students as expressing hostility towards them because of their political persuasion. That is unacceptable.”
Other conservative or Republican students, including Simpson, are calling for Drake’s administration to not just reprimand Younger in an email, but actually fire her. Simpson posted a screenshot on Facebook on Feb. 2 of an email she said she sent to President Martin and Dean of Students Jerry Parker, containing a formal complaint from herself and several other conservative students.
In this screenshot, Simpson wrote that her email contained an attached document with “indisputable evidence of direct violations of conduct that pose race and gender discrimination, conflict of interest, [Younger’s] intolerance towards the students she is teaching, and her incitement of violence towards students.”
Simpson was unable to provide the Times-Delphic access to this document as of this article’s publishing.
The reality of the email’s request is complicated.
Jennifer McCrickerd is a professor of philosophy at Drake and is the chair of the academic freedom and tenure committee of Drake’s Faculty Senate. McCrickerd said that not only is it very unlikely that Drake will fire Younger, but also that it is something she does not want to happen, and that students should not want to happen either.
“I don’t think any student wants to be part of an institution where a professor saying something that alienates people…would be a reason for firing [them],” McCrickerd said. “Because then what you get—two different things happen. One, faculty just don’t want to talk about things anymore. They’re going to be like, ‘Okay, fine, we’ll just read the most boring, blasé thing possible, and we won’t ever try to rattle your cages.’
“[Two]…once we start literally policing faculty for what we can or cannot be saying, that’s a really dangerous road to go down. Because while I may be perfectly comfortable prohibiting people from saying things I disagree with, or things I think are problematic, there’s probably going to be something that I totally agree with, and think ought to be said, that other people are going to find really problematic…in this way, I’m very much in keeping with the general ethos of the United States, which is, the right to free speech gives us the right to say stuff that other people don’t like, and could be wrong.”
The real question that seems to concern parties involved is whether or not Younger’s perceived bias against Republicans on Twitter bleeds into her teaching practices.
“From a university perspective, the only thing that really matters at the end of the day is, in terms of an individual faculty member’s responsibility to her students, is that she makes sure that her students are getting what they deserve in the classroom,” McCrickerd said.
At least one conservative or Republican student has spread accusations of Younger behaving in a biased manner in the classroom, but said student has been unwilling to come forward publicly. Simpson reportedly included this student’s complaint in her petition to have Drake’s administration fire Younger.
But other students of Younger’s have publicly pushed back against that claim.
Halle Fish, a vocal performance major with a concentration in women and gender studies, took a class with Younger in the fall of 2020.
“In my experience, I’ve seen Beth [Younger] strive to nurture discussion that is valuable, considers all perspectives, and seeks to make the most genuine and positive change in our community,” Fish said in an email.
Anthony Arroyo is a senior digital media production major at Drake. He took Adolescent Literature with Younger in fall 2020. He said he loves Younger because of how she demonstrates care for her students.
“[Younger] says hi to every single person, asks how they’re doing,” Arroyo said. “She always talked to everybody, that’s what I really appreciate [about] her. [Younger was one of the] only teachers this semester that, every week, made sure, ‘Are you guys okay? I know this semester is hard as hell, what can we do?’ She was very considerate and cares about her students.”
Amber Ruiz is a sophomore writing major who took Gender and Horror with Younger in the spring 2020 semester. She and Arroyo both said that Younger would speak about politics in their classes with her, but that Younger did so in a way that was generally respectful.
“Especially when you’re teaching humanities, it’s impossible [to keep your politics out of your teaching],” Ruiz said. “No one really complained [when the class talked about politics]…no one seemed upset.”
However, Ruiz also said that creating an inclusive space for all students is something Younger needs to work on. Not just for conservative or Republican students, but also for students of color, especially Black students.
“I think that everyone in the [English] department could work on that,” Ruiz said. “No one’s perfect. You could say that I just think that Professor Younger probably could work on that, but also literally everyone could, too.”
It appears to some members of the Drake community that Younger has become a symbol of the way conservative and Republican students feel marginalized on Drake’s campus, and that not all of the vitriol directed toward Younger is about her actions, specifically.
“My main grievance isn’t as much towards the professor,” Poortinga said. “I think that it’s more against Drake University as a whole. Because Drake University says that they are inclusive, that they support diverse viewpoints and opinions, and—it’s clear that they don’t.”
Ruiz agreed that this controversy isn’t all about Younger’s tweets but doesn’t believe that the way conservative and Republican students involved are handling the situation is appropriate.
“I think the conservative students are angry,” Ruiz said. “I think they seem really angry about their losses [in the 2020 election] and they seem really frustrated, and they’re just trying to find a person to belittle and get angry at because they don’t have anything else to get angry at.”
Ruiz empathized with what she saw as conservative and Republican students’ anger at their political losses. She said she went through something similar when Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-MA) presidential bid failed in early 2020.
“But when that happened, I just took time for myself to take care of myself, recover [and] feel,” Ruiz said. “To go and attack a professor of the opposing political beliefs of you, and like, try to bring them down because you are really passionate and angry and you don’t have anywhere else to put it, is kind of childish. Very immature.”
Simpson, on the other hand, does believe her and other involved conservative and Republican students’ response has been appropriate.
“[That] a professor, someone who teaches class, someone who is going to be grading students, is allowed to say that they have…an entire group of students that they want to suffer…it not only completely goes against all of Drake’s policies… but it [also] just shows that they don’t care, they don’t value students, they don’t actually care about diversity, they don’t actually care about being inclusive,” Simpson said. “It’s just complete bullshit, and this completely proves it.”
This story is still developing.