Caleb M.S. – Staff Writer
Now, more than ever, is not a time for indecision and a lack of transparency on the part of any institution of higher education. We are living in a golden age of vocality, both affirming and critical. Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and other forms of social media allow for the immediate expression of dissent and the rapid mobilization of like-minded thinkers.
The recent rise of parody twitter accounts for Iowa government officials (@KimReynolds_ IA, @SenJoniErnstIA), Northwest Iowa pundits like agitator Jacob Hall (@NotJacobHall1), Orange City want-to-be theocrat Kurt Korver (@IowaReformation), and CEO of The Family Leader Bob Vander Plaats (@FAKEBOBVP) are among a few. There are also a few Dordt- centric accounts mimicking President Erik Hoekstra (@NOTerikhoekstra), Dordt student activities (@DordtStudent), and a comedy page called “dordt updates” (@DordtUpdates). This brand of Tweeting has led to comical critique and, sometimes, unhinged commentary.
Outside the sphere of relative anonymity provided by parody accounts, students themselves contribute critique towards their institutions. At Dordt, multiple students on Twitter offered tongue-in-cheek comments on Dordt’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic over the summer and with events surrounding the Week of Welcome celebration. Largely, these comments and criticisms coming from students and parody pages are based out of a love for Dordt and their fellow students.
Vocality is not negative by default. In fact, a vocal student base, no matter how critical, should be a sign of a healthy and engaged student body. Students are willing to dig into institutional politics and policies because they are the group most impacted by the decisions made above their head. Any educational institution, at its core, exists solely to serve the students in attendance – not the donors, not the board, not the faculty or administration, but tuition- paying students. As a result, commentary from students, no matter how seemingly derogatory, should be heeded with an active and listening ear from the powers that be.
Unfortunately, this does not always seem to be the case at many institutions, and Dordt University serves as a prime example. In an interview with the small student group behind the @NOTerikhoekstra twitter account, the oldest in the Dordt Twitterverse trifecta, the founders revealed they faced pressure from the University to delete their account as early as the fall semester of 2019. The students shared that administration relayed their message through another student whom administration assumed to be involved with the account but were never approached directly until this semester. Similarly, the President commented on the Twitter parody of himself, saying the fake account should greater differentiate their profile from his own and refrain from using profanity.
Additionally–the President from his public Twitter account, stated the account is “confusing too many 40-year-olds, much less older and younger folks.” The team behind Eric Hoekstra rebutted in comments shared with Diamond staff, asking us to note their name: “NOTerikhoekstra,” the fake mustache on President Hoekstra in their profile, and the fact that less than 5% of their original Tweets contain any measure of profanity.
The founder of the Dordt Student Activities account reached out to Diamond staff and shared screenshots of a direct message conversation between them and top administration officials, where the University representative requested the account cease tweeting for the fall semester. Their request cited non-Twitter-savvy parents and a fear of misinformation. Dordt Updates (@ DordtUpdates) declined to share comment for this story.
Outside the small-but-growing parody community on Twitter, Dordt administration has put pressure on individual students via personal communication to delete their own Twitter posts. Comments from former employees, critical of the institution, have been deleted from official Dordt Instagram posts. These individual events make clear a larger pattern of institutional insecurity on the part of Dordt University when they feel pressure from the online community to critically consider their own policies and practices.
The main issue with institutional involvement around an online image is the obvious power imbalance between the University and their students. If I Tweet something a friend perceives as hurtful to them and they approach me asking me to reconsider, I see this interaction not as a threat but as a request, person to person. , When top administration officials personally contact a student and tells them to delete their social media posts, there is no room for a conversation between equals. The university administration represents scholarships, a degree, and future career opportunities; the student has no cards to play. Not only is this inherently threatening to an individual, it is unbecoming of the university to punch down at their own students.
It would be lazy, biased journalism— even in an opinion piece— to end so negatively. In this New Age of Anxiety (a callback, of course, to the time period surrounding the Spanish Flu, economic collapses, and two World Wars) tensions burn white-hot and it is easy to see anyone with a differing opinion as the enemy. This need not be the case, especially in an educational setting where every office within the university exists for the betterment of the student. The majority of commentary from students and parody accounts exists to encourage a positive trajectory for the university, and even when less-than-helpful critique runs rampant, the University does not bear the burden of personally reacting to negative opinions. Instead, the University should encourage dialogue and critical thinking, two skills liberal arts colleges pride themselves in fostering.