My Letter to the Editor Regarding Mitch Albom’s Offensive Column on College

Below is a re-post of the letter to the editor I sent to the Detroit Free Press regarding Mitch Albom’s latest column about the changes on college campuses. I think some of the statistics regarding access to Planned Parenthood, biased curriculums and how transgender students are targeted are important for people to read.

If you haven’t read Albom’s original article you can find it on Freep.com.

To Whom it May Concern,

I want to start off by saying I graduated from Troy High School in 2007 and then attended and graduated from American University in 2010 with a degree in journalism. I have read the Free Press diligently since leaving Michigan and have often trumpeted its editorial credibility and content around the District of Columbia metro area.

It is sad for me to say that today is the last day I will read the Free Press. The fact the editorial staff and board would allow Mr. Albom’s piece titled “Mitch Albom: Dropping kids off at college — then vs. now” to leave the newsroom and deem it “satisfactory” is offensive, closed-minded and does nothing but reinforce the rest of the nation’s current opinion of the state of Michigan.

Mr. Albom’s article about the differences in attending college between the “60s” and today read like a page out of the Trump Campaign Playbook. I want to begin with the horrific anti-LGBTQ rhetoric. Albom says “We also met his roommate, who seemed nice. Her name is X. And we are not supposed to use the word ‘her.’ ” He contrasts this with saying in the old days the roommate’s name was “Scott.”

Maybe Mr. Albom is unaware what transgender-students deal with on college campuses these days. According to an article by Inside Higher Ed published in 2015, one-in-four transgender students have experienced sexual assault since enrolling in college, with high rates of sexual assault also found among female, gay and lesbian undergraduates. The 25-percent of transgender students that report non-consensual sexual contact on campus is higher than women and almost four times higher than men reporting the same contact. Perhaps the even more horrifying figure is that in a 2011 survey published by the National Center for Transgender Equality, nearly two-thirds of all transgender-people who reported being sexually assaulted attempted suicide after being attacked.

Those statistics are things both your newsroom and Mr. Albom need to consider before publishing a column that mocks the presence of transgender-students on a college campus.

Let’s move on to the rampant sexism.

Mr. Albom states halfway through the article. “A student protest to eliminate dead poets from the curriculum means he won’t have to study Shakespeare, and since history was found to be an offensive word (“His” and “story,” so sexist!) he doesn’t have to worry about that anymore.” To touch on Mr. Albom’s disdain for equality in the classroom — something I am shocked anyone could be against — let’s refer to a 2015 study released by the Harvard University’s “Voices of Diversity” regarding subtle racism and sexism on college campuses.

The study conducted interviews with students on four campuses: Missouri State, a Midwest University, a Southern Regional State University and an Ivy University. In the study, students said “white male students are called on in class more often than other students.” The study also found that women and minorities feel like they do not belong on campus. Those students went on to say that the feelings of inequality extended to professors and syllabuses. One woman was quoted as saying, “When you get into one of these high-status universities, and you’re a woman, you are made to feel so lucky to be there, but you look around, and guess what? A vast majority of the professors are still men. They’re still white men.” The same woman said it was hard to find any class materials written by anyone other than a white man. “It’s not that there’s anything wrong with what white men say, but when there’s nothing on the syllabus by anybody who’s in the group you are in — either in race or sex — with that absence, you don’t have role models, you don’t have people who were treated in similar ways.”

I find it hard then for Albom, a white man, to defend his comments about sexism in the face of what so many women and minority students report going through on a daily basis. To imply that a protest trying to remove casual sexism around a campus is bad, or less than what the 1960’s protested, maybe he should take a long look at how much of an impact a college education has on a person’s life before passing judgement on what others believe.

This brings me to my final point regarding Mr. Albom’s ridiculous, sexist and down-right uneducated demeaning of appropriate sexual preparedness and access to affordable female healthcare for college students.

I am going to block quote a few passages from the May 2015 Birth Control Fact Sheet produced by Planned Parenthood.

The broad positive impact of birth control on the U.S. economy is one reason why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention named family planning, including access to modern contraception, one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century. The U.S. and state governments saved $13.6 billion in 2010 and it is estimated that for every $1 invested in family planning programs, federal and state governments save $7.09 in part because of unintended pregnancies that were prevented from publicly supported contraception.
Fully one-third of the wage gains women have made since the 1960s are the result of access to oral contraceptives. And while the wage gap between men and women is still significant (particularly for women of color) and must be addressed, access to birth control has helped narrow the gap.
Being able to get the pill before age 21 has been found to be the most influential factor in enabling women already in college to stay in college
Birth control has been estimated to account for more than 30 percent of the increase in the proportion of women in skilled careers from 1970 to 1990.
Family planning services available through Medicaid and Title X of the U.S. Public Health Service Act help women prevent 2.2 million unintended pregnancies each year. Without these family planning services, the numbers of unintended pregnancies and abortions would be nearly two-thirds higher than they are now.

According to the Guttmacher institute in a 2016 survey, 26% of patients at a Planned Parenthood site said it was the only place they could go for the services they required. And for Mr. Albom — who clearly seems to think Planned Parenthood just doles out condoms and birth control — maybe he’d be interested to know they also perform 360,000 breast exams per-year, conduct, on average, 4.2-million STD test per year and provide treatment for those positives tests and conduct on average 3,445 vasectomies per year.

Moving past the republican led Planned Parenthood stigma’s that Mr. Albom continues to push in an article about college, let’s talk about his somewhat unabashed shock at the availability of condoms on college campuses.

According, again to Guttmacher, on average young people in the US have sex for the first time at age 17. With that in mind, the American Psychological Association reported in 2002 that when students have a condom available, they are more likely to use one. On top of that, Research Gate proposed in a 2007 study that it was the role of the parents AND sex education classes to inform and shape a young person’s perceptions of sex to ensure they grow into healthy sexual adults.

I am not saying that all parents should give condoms to their kids or that they should encourage sexual contact, but to say that in the ’60s kids weren’t having sex and to double down on that, to infer that giving kids today access to proven STI prevention and family planning resources is somehow wrong, continues to jeopardize their long-term health and safety. Maybe Mr. Albom is uncomfortable talking about sex, and that is fine it is not always easy for a parent to talk about it, but it is an important subject all parents need to address before sending their child to college. Parents and the “old” generation need to open their eyes and understand that information is power and power helps prevent things like: disease, unplanned pregnancy and prepares students to better understand sexual feelings and urges. These conversations help lessen the chance they commit sexual assault or are a victim of it. The idea of consent is not one we are born with, ignoring sex education and sensible sex practices pushes college students, who sometimes are as young as 17, into new situations without the tools required to make adult choices.

Mr. Albom’s column is flat out lazy. I have constructed this argument from a few Google searches. His writing is not only offensive, but ultimately dangerous. Transgender students are targeted by their peers more often than others, sexual transmitted disease is on the rise on campuses, hook-up culture is a growing problem and curriculums still do exclude female and minority voices. These issues do long-term damage to students on college campuses when they are mocked or ignored.

Maybe before Mr. Albom passes down judgement on sensible changes around college campuses he should determine whether or not he really thinks that $70,000-a-year education is worth it if the students are scared of being targeted because they are different, are unable to get appropriate female health care, are the victims of sexual assault, are infected with an STI or are being taught a sub-par curriculum. Maybe his mind would change if he had any experience with these problems.

I am available by phone and by email if you’d like to discuss my thoughts or this column further.

Sincerely,

Andrew