Monday, February 25, 2008

Confessions of a Mass Email Artist

How I pissed off some faculty with just one click

I woke up in high spirits on Sunday, put on my “I heart Hillary” tee, and set out on a mission to change the world. I arrived at the Dallas Headquarters for the Hillary Clinton campaign at around noon. It was a little hectic due to an early vote rally with President Bill Clinton which had taken place that morning in Arlington, but I was eventually shuffled to the appropriate person. After expressing my desire to help out with the campaign, I was given a briefing on how to be a precinct captain and discussed options for reaching out to the SMU community. I agreed to do what I could, and I intended to follow through with my promise.

After hearing about emails circulating to student leaders recruiting volunteers for Barack Obama, it dawned on me that I could use the school email system to do the same. I developed a very short, generic message about why I am voting for Hillary, asking those who felt the same to email me with “questions about the process or if you are interested in becoming a precinct captain or volunteering.” I figured that if I got any replies from students, I could help them get in touch with the appropriate person or possibly form a student group on campus to help “get out the vote” on March 4. I used the SMU email directory to quickly send out hundreds of messages simultaneously. I knew that many students would ignore or even disapprove of the email, but I thought that if I even got a few positive responses, that it would be worth it. I still believe in that calculation, but I was not expecting what happened next.

It took about five minutes before angry faculty members were writing me emails, chastising me for being “out of line” in using the directory to send out “spam” to “influence voters”. I didn’t realize that when I searched for addresses under “display name”, that I was targeting SMU staff, professors, and deans. Realizing my mistake, I quickly sent out an apology that explained that I didn’t really believe that people would change their minds after reading my short message and that I was just trying to organize volunteers for Hillary’s campaign. I recognized that I probably didn’t use the appropriate forum for doing so and regretted any inconvenience I may have caused.

To make the matter even worse, many people hit “reply to all” in asking to be “removed from the list.” In a matter of hours, I had caused email boxes all across campus to be filled with junk. My political zealousness had momentarily clouded my judgment, and I was a little embarrassed. But after my initial feelings subsided, I was mostly shocked that certain professors and university employees had such rude things to say to a student who was only trying to get others involved in the political process.

I’m not going to mention any names here for obvious reasons, but I think it’s important to include some direct quotations. I am disappointed that an employee of our school felt it necessary to call me “stupid” for my actions and that “I must be related to Hillary” for supposedly trying to “lie my way out” of the situation. It is even more disturbing to me, that the most hateful emails, four to be specific, came from individuals affiliated with the Perkins School of Theology. I understand that they may not consider Hillary Clinton to be representative of their political ideals, but the condescending tone was uncalled for. One person in particular wrote that, “This is a university, meaning that smart people work here” and that “as a senior at a minimum here you ought to have learned how to think.” I would think that as a faculty member at a minimum here he ought to have learned how to address a student in an appropriate manner.

Despite blatant attempts to discourage me, the negativity has only increased my motivation. I have never felt more strongly for a candidate, and I plan on doing everything in my power to make sure that Texas gives Hillary Clinton the comeback she deserves. In all fairness, however, I have to include a response I got from a member of the Math Department. “Curtis, don't apologize or feel bad. I get all kinds of email every day. From junk about Viagra sales…to notices about events on campus that I am not even remotely interested in. Political activism seems like a much more appropriate way of using email than any of these. Please don't let anyone intimidate you. Stay active. If people were angry, screw 'em. And by the way, I'm not saying this because I'm a Clinton partisan. I'm voting for Obama.”

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