Letter submitted by Nicole Sullivan in response to a recent article written by Paige Willey and published in the Swarthmore Independent. Nicole and Cora Segal helped lead the March 20th Fat Justice and Feminism workshop.
Despite it being late, I was restless. I had spent the previous night driving to Swarthmore from Boston for over six hours to to present a workshop on Fat Justice and Feminism and I just needed to move. I decided to cope with my restlessness by heading out to Tom Jones Diner in Brookhaven, PA to do some work and get a change in scenery.
I sat down in a booth alone with my laptop open. It wasn’t long before a group of men started harassing me. They called me fat. They called me a dyke. They sexually propositioned me. Though I repeatedly asking them to leave me alone the verbal harassment got so aggressive I had to leave the diner. However, instead of exiting into safety, I found more danger. When I was walking to my car, a SUV pulled up beside me and cornered me. There were five men in the SUV and they each told me in graphic detail exactly what they would like to do with me. They eventually got bored and drove away. I was lucky that this incident did not escalate into physical violence, though that has not always been the case in my past.
That night, like many other nights before it, I did not get a choice to hide the parts of me that are confrontational to others.
I am sharing this anecdote because I was recently directed to Paige Willey’s Swarthmore Independent article written in response to the Fat Justice and Feminism workshop at Swarthmore I helped lead. I have long been committed to education and social justice and respectful dialogue with disagreeing parties is part of that commitment. However, instead of ethical and principled disagreement, Ms. Willey’s article chose personal attacks and lazy journalism. In her article, she misquoted me and quoted statements without the relevant context and outright lied about various points Cora and I made. She even included a fake and deliberately inflammatory quotation about my sexuality. Most egregiously, she did not make her journalistic affiliations or intentions known at the start of the workshop, in direct violation of the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics. Ms. Willey was in no danger in our workshop. There was no reason to hide her affiliations nor was there any ethical reason why she needed to talk about my sexuality the way she did, especially considering the ongoing violence and harassment of LGTBQ people in our communities.
In direct response to Ms. Willey’s article, I would like to offer the following corrections to her claims:
I helped create the Fat Justice and Feminism workshop in order to work towards a movement that can unite all women against sexism, in all the forms it takes. Fat justice has an incredible potential to organize women against forces that seek to control our bodies and lives, whether through biased science or prejudiced views. Fat justice, however, cannot be the only path we follow for liberation. One of the main reasons behind this workshop was to build connections between fat struggles and struggles against racism, sexism and economic exploitation. My hope is that the material we presented would challenge people and provoke responses and engagement. Regardless of the nature of Ms. Willey’s response, I am beyond excited to see the level of discussion and debate that has emerged from our workshop. Social change only comes from a deep commitment to understanding the world around us and as far as I am concerned, Swarthmore is committed.