Tolerating Criticism Is A Virtue: An Open Letter To SPA

Dear Penn State’s Student Programming Association (SPA),

My name is Colleen Nersten, otherwise known as @bootmobile on Twitter.

Last Tuesday, you teased an announcement about your guest lecturer on October 6. In this tweet, you encouraged folks to guess who the lecturer was for the Domestic Violence Awareness Month event.

I thought this was a very insensitive and, frankly, weird tweet. I quote-tweeted your tweet from my personal Twitter account with the message that I felt SPA was sending — “We want YOU to guess your favorite C-list celebrity who was abused!”

As you suggested, I racked my brain thinking of all of the famous people who have shared that they were a victim of domestic violence. Who was it going to be? Rihanna? Amber Heard or Johnny Depp? A different individual who had spoken out about their experience with domestic violence?

There is no reason why someone’s trauma should be advertised in that way. It’s not appropriate to use someone else’s trauma as a teaser for your Twitter account.

Fortunately, due to freedom of speech, I was able to voice my dissatisfaction with your tweet. Don’t take it personally — I criticize people on Twitter all the time. The Bryce Jordan Center and I go way back, for example.

The BJC didn’t blacklist Onward State for my own personal opinion. In fact, it reposts Onward State’s content pretty often.

On September 21, your official Twitter account responded to my tweet claiming that domestic violence is not a topic that it takes lightly. You also encouraged me to attend the event. I felt you missed the point of my original tweet, so I responded with a gif insinuating just that.

The irony is that I like what your organization does for Penn State. From Yung Gravy to Lunay, your musicians and speakers appeal to a wide variety of people and spark important conversations. In particular, the Elizabeth Smart lecture led me to reflect on my worth, identity, and ability to be resilient.

I appreciated that you hoped to see me at the October 6 event. I go to most SPA events, sometimes professionally and sometimes personally, so there was a pretty good chance I’d be in the audience.

Fast forward to Monday night, the Daily Collegian published a story announcing Ashe as your Domestic Violence Awareness Month speaker and performer. Onward State normally receives a press release before you announce any guests, which we publish to inform the student body about events around campus.

The press release never came. We gave you the benefit of the doubt — it must’ve just been an accident.

I cover a lot of SPA events, and luckily there was a decent amount of information on Twitter and your website, so I wrote the Ashe post and scheduled it for Tuesday morning. The post was viewed by our audience, most of which was likely students. I’m glad. The student body has the right to know about what’s going around their campus and what a portion of their $274 student-initiated fee is being spent on.

Onward State’s managing editor, Gabe Angieri, inquired about the press release and was met with a response the following day from your public relations chair. You included the press release in the response but also had a message for Angieri and Onward State.

“It came to our attention that there was an unprofessional tweet sent out by one of your writers in response to our Ashe teaser,” the email said. “This tweet was liked by multiple others who represent Onward State. I believe the original tweet actually came from the author of your article about the Ashe lecture.”

“In the future, we would love to continue to work with Onward State as long as we can maintain a professional and mutually beneficial relationship,” it continued. “Moving forward, you’ll receive all press releases.”

When this email was brought to my attention, I was surprised. For some reason, my tweet was taken very personally by someone on SPA’s staff. Nowhere on my Twitter is my full name used, so your folks had to have done some digging to connect @bootmobile to Onward State associate editor Colleen Nersten.

Someone was so hurt by my tweet that they chose to withhold information from one of the many organizations I’m involved with as an individual. People with SPA in their Instagram bios also followed my personal, private account, which was odd.

Truth be told, I’m sure 80% of Onward State’s staff didn’t even see my tweet nor care. I had forgotten about it by the time Friday rolled around, and I sure thought everyone else on the bird app did, too.

Your organization is in no way obligated to send Onward State its press releases, but it sure is the professional thing to do if we really want to go there. SPA is a facet of Penn State. Onward State has 300,000 followers across platforms, and one individual who goes by @bootmobile shouldn’t be the reason students don’t know what’s going on around campus.

Two weeks ago, Onward State football beat writer Ryan Parsons criticized Jake Pinegar’s placekicking in the Nittany Lions’ home opener against Ohio. Angieri wrote a column last year about how the football team wasn’t living up to the program’s expectations. Should they have lost their football credentials for writing those columns? Of course not.

It’s normal to feel upset when you’re criticized. Your reaction to that criticism is what’s most important. In fact, tolerating criticism is a virtue.

It’s the role of the media to hold organizations in the public eye accountable for their mistakes. I encourage you to reflect on why my tweet made you so defensive.

At the end of the day, it was just a lil bit of Twitter beef. Perhaps the original SPA tweet should’ve never been published, and perhaps I could’ve been nicer in how I expressed my issue with it.

We’re both just student organizations trying to improve the lives of students. Moving forward, let’s focus on doing just that. Onward State will continue to cover your events objectively.


Colleen Nersten, @bootmobile

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About the Author

Colleen Nersten

Colleen is a washed-up biology grad and former associate editor. Her legacy will live on through stories like “10 Questions With State College Sensation ‘Hot UPS Bae’”. If you’re a STEM girlie, this is your sign to take the leap of faith and learn to write. It’s pretty fun. Colleen misses the hate mail and can be reached at [email protected] or via LinkedIn.

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