English instructor reacts to recent controversy over published editorial cartoon

Natalie Mahaffey

An Open Letter to the Students of Francis Marion University:


I’m pissed off. No, really. I am. I’m pissed off at the student body on this campus. And I’m not ashamed to express that to you because I once was a part of this student body. I was involved in numerous organizations and knew a ton of really cool people and was a presence on this campus as much as I could be because I love this university and what it stands for and what it doesn’t stand for. I love it so much that I came back to teach here.

So, I lovingly ask: What the hell is wrong with all of you? That’s not a rhetorical question, by the way. I really want to know. How do you make your decisions on what to care about and what not to care about? Things are happening on this campus, in this community, in this country, all over this world, and most of you have no idea. Why is that?

I suspect it’s because you don’t fully believe things affect you, that you are somehow invincible to the things happening around you. I think you believe that if you do not personally experience a negative situation, then you are exempt from being a human being who cares about the world in which we live.

For instance, raise your hand if you know what is happening right now in Washington concerning birth control, rape defining, and abortion. If you are a female and you are not raising your hand, shame on you. The fate of your uterus is being decided right now, this second, by a bunch of people who don’t even have a uterus. A bunch of men, mostly white, are sitting around Capitol Hill discussing whether or not you are allowed to have control over your very own body.

And I’m not talking about abortion. I’m talking about your free will to take birth control to help with medical complications and pregnancy prevention and period regulation. Why should a bunch of old white dudes get to decide that for you? How are a bunch of old white dudes getting away with this? Because you don’t know about it because you don’t pay attention to what is happening all around you.

I bring up what is happening right now with women’s rights in Washington to help me prove a point. As many of you know, right before Spring Break, The Patriot published a comic that depicted Greek Life here at Francis Marion University as the Dark Side. And campus life exploded into action. Who knew that three little illustrated panels that showed Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker fighting with lightsabers would cause so much drama? People banded together to show support for the fraternities and sororities on this campus.

And I get it. On the surface, being part of the Dark Side seems to be negative, and I suspect an organization that prides itself on its philanthropic work doesn’t want to be regarded as negative. But I think many on this campus failed to realize two things.

First, no one would have paid that comic any attention had much of the student body not made such a big deal out of it. In fact, there are many people who have claimed they didn’t even understand the comic until someone explained it to them. The comic did not impede your freedoms in any way. It did not force anyone to change their mind about how they view you or the organization you support. If anything, it gave you something to be proud of. Parody is the best form of flattery because it means that you have made such an impact in someone’s mind that they have taken the time to figure out how to push your buttons. That’s huge! It’s awesome! Greek Life should be exceptionally proud of that accomplishment.

I’ve taught many brothers and sisters on this campus, and I can say without hesitation that I am constantly proud and amazed by you, your hard work, and your love of life in general. So stop seeing the negative in the comic, and instead focus on the possibility that being a “Dark Sider” isn’t too shabby.

Second, there were other comics published in the same edition of The Patriot that could be considered far more offensive than a comic about Darth Vader and Greek Life. Seriously? No one had anything to say about the Rick Santorum rape baby comic? There has to be at least 1 person on this campus who supports Rick Santorum for President. Hell, I’d make a bet that there is at least 1 person in Greek Life who supports Rick Santorum. And yet no one said anything about his comic strip. Why? Is a man who could potentially be the President of the United States so unimportant to you and your future that you choose to completely ignore anything controversial that has to do with him? Or do you not know who Rick Santorum even is.

Here’s my point: I teach many of you every single day, and I know this campus is full of smart, funny, driven, amazing people who are going to do great things in this world one day. But that day doesn’t have to be years from now. It can be tomorrow. Find a way to give voice to this campus, a voice that expresses its opinion about things that matter to the world around us. If the student body can band together to protest a tiny comic strip that no one will remember in 5 years, think of what you could accomplish if you focused that energy on something truly influential.

Now. Go be amazing.


Natalie Mahaffey