September 23, 2014

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Monday, September 22, 2014

Staff Editorial: Molander misinterpreted by University

Also see: Campus Perspective: From Sylvan to Southwest, students discuss Molander
|Podcast: Molander speaks out about his intentions |Molander’s original ‘Friends Club’ letter |Tyler Molander debates withdrawal |Letter causes stir on campus | Tyler Molander in process of withdrawing | Campus Perspectives: Students respond to letter and reaction

Editor’s note: An earlier headline was revised to reflect the one used in the print version.

On Sunday, a letter sealed with a smiley face was slipped under the doors of dorm rooms all over Southwest. It contained no explicit threat, nor any reference to violent activity nor any discernibly malicious content – and it was not anonymous.

The letter was written and signed by a University of Massachusetts student, Tyler Molander, who announced yesterday on Facebook that he was withdrawing from the University due to the general backlash that his letter garnered. According to Molander, approximately 100 people contacted the police after receiving one of his letters.

Ironically, the sort of reflexive mistrust inspired among students by Molander’s letter is exactly the same alienating force which it seems to have been written as a means of sidestepping. The main purpose of the letter, which is peppered with references to Molander’s dissatisfaction with rote social behavior, is to bring together complete strangers in order to form “a group of friends that do not need to rely on common interests or activities in order to foster friendship, love, and new experiences.”

So why the negative response? Its tone was intense and possibly desperate, its distribution unusual – arguably invasive – and its final sentence ambiguous in its instruction that his acquaintances stay away from the meeting at the Blue Wall using the words “trust me,” but inspiring anything but feelings of trust. While the blank intention of the letter was to bring together a disparate group of students who felt alienated by their surroundings, Molander also made it abundantly clear that he was writing from a place of frustration. From his opening line “I’m pissed off at this campus” to his insistence that his readers “Cut the s***, human up, and make time,” his writing is emotionally-charged and jarring. This is his intention. He’s trying to shake things up – which is again, unusual. For many students, it’s even scary.

But what’s true about some of Molander’s philosophies is highlighted by students’ reactions – they scare easily, they pass judgment on others swiftly, barely pausing to suppose the story could have greater depth than their gut reaction might indicate.

Part of what is painfully evident in the reaction of the students who contacted the police is a failure on their part to separate the tone from content, or even to properly interpret a tone that is just as colored by hopefulness as it is by frustration. Molander was an officer in the UMass Philosophy and Open Thought club; while his message might have struck the appropriate tone for an intimate intellectual discussion, it lost its nuances when shoved unsolicited under the doors of strangers. By commingling his candid emotions with his deep philosophical hopes, his writing becomes uncomfortably intimate for his audience. People make friends through spontaneous meetings, mutual acquaintances, or, as Molander lamented, common interests. To be directly propositioned for friendship by a stranger is confusing and, in this case, was met with distrust by both students and the administration. It was the administration’s response, however, which led to the unnecessary ending of Molander’s academic career at UMass.

According to Molander’s Facebook posts, he went through a “5 hour psychological analysis” following the complaints, before ultimately being asked to withdraw from the University by the UMass administration. Though we have no confirmation as of yet from UMass, Molander’s parents have confirmed that he has left the University.

And if it is true, and the administration did ask him to leave, then they have done more to Molander for writing an innocuous letter than they did to the confessed rapist who remained enrolled in 2010. They have done more to Molander for trying to bring people together than they did to a repeat perpetrator of sexual harassment last year.

Besides being procedurally inconsistent, to pressure a student out of the University for trying to reach out and organize his peers runs counter to a considerable chunk of the University’s fundamental goals. As a university campus, the space is supposed to, in part at least, offer students a safe space to congregate and, as Molander himself wished, instigate activities and create artifices aimed at fostering an enriching environment in which to mature intellectually as well as socially.

Molander’s delivery was poor, and the anxiety felt by many was understandable. However, this is no excuse for the administration’s further alienation of someone who, in the final account, was merely trying to reach out. While the University was right to address the matter, Molander should have been offered support once it became clear his intentions were not violent. They could have offered him counseling; they could have helped him readdress the student body in a less alienating manner.

There is not enough evidence to suggest that Molander was a danger to the student body. The University was complicit in validating the fears of a lonely yet optimistic student.

Unsigned editorials represent the majority opinion of the Massachusetts Daily Collegian Editorial Board.

Comments
34 Responses to “Staff Editorial: Molander misinterpreted by University”
  1. sam says:

    maybe that dude wouldn’t have withdrawn from school if he’s name wasn’t plastered all over this paper…

  2. Anonymous says:

    Yeah, maybe the administration took a “hardline approach” to this. But I bet they (and the “editorial board”) would have felt pretty bad if this kid went and shot up his dorm.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Sam – or if it hadn’t then been plastered all over the Boston Barstool Sports page. Obviously he didn’t plan this out very well, in terms of thinking about how people might react.

  4. Jerry says:

    I think it’s improper to say the administration mishandled this event. Wait until Umass gives a proper response. If you go by what Tyler says than of course everything will seem slanted in his favor. What if something was uncovered during his psychological evaluation? You don’t know the whole story, and jumping to conclusions is just fanning the flames. I am not saying Tyler should or shouldn’t have been kicked off campus. It is not my place to say. However, I expected more from the Daily Collegian.

  5. Justin says:

    Pretty interesting how Umass put him through 5 hours of psychological analysis and obviously deemed him psychologically unstable if they asked him to leave… but yet everyone is rushing to the conclusion that Umass is forcing him out for no reason. This article is written with such extreme bias that I am actually shocked it was even posted.

  6. Hashahahaha says:

    Sam, you’re an idiot and I hope they kick you out for incompetence.

  7. Jim says:

    Right, Sam, because leaving his name and contact information on the letter and slipping it under 3/4 of student’s doors on this campus really means he wants his privacy..

  8. Senior says:

    Sam, his name was also included on the letter he sent to those students. They were signed letters, and there was no mistaking WHO had sent it.

    If anything, the Collegian is giving him the sympathy that he deserves.

    Another blunder by the UMass administration.

  9. Stephanie says:

    UMass has made one thing clear with their overreaction: If you can’t conform, you should be quiet.

  10. brianna says:

    “Plastering” his name on these letters goes to show that his intentions weren’t to be interpreted in the negative manner they were by the majority of closed minded individuals on this campus. Had Molander made a Facebook group for this “friends club” rather than innocently putting an emotionally charged, but non-threatening letter under doors, maybe people would have felt more at ease, being able to hide behind a social networking site. Rather, he made a noble and TRUE attempt to make friends. He wrote an ACTUAL letter which has been one of the primary forms of mass communication, until the recent downfall of human social skills as a result of the internet, for centuries. The amount of fear instilled in people is unbelievable. Students attempt to create groups and clubs on campus year round and because Molander did this in an atypical manner (which realistically isn’t atypical at all) that made people feel uncomfortable, he is facing illegitimate consequences. Molander has been mistreated by the administration and denied his right to an education and the freedom of his speech.

  11. Christine Bertram (alumni of UMD) says:

    What is a University? My impression was:
    1. To encourage a love of lifetime learning.
    2. Encourage diversity, individualism, creativity, trust, and social growth

    I have known Tyler for approximately 10 years, since he was in the seventh or eighth grade. I find his treatment by UMASS Amherst very disappointing. Tyler is a serious student, with a wonderful sense of humor, trying like any young person, to discover who they are. Why is the system discouraging growth?

    I am an alumni of UMD (two degrees), and sincerely hope the decisions made by UMASS Amherst are not the same as another college or University would make.
    Christine Bertram

  12. Freshman says:

    Have any of you seen his Facebook page? He has a video of him with a bag over his head that says “sociopath” with eyes cut out of the O’s. And very disturbing notes too that talk about “mauling his friends with crowbars making it happy if he thinks it doesn’t hurt them… so therefore it doesn’t but SHH dont tell anyone!!” and “the blood of the innocent on his hands”. Plus the letter has a closing line similar to what the columbine shooters told their friends the day before that incident. And very disturbing comments on his statuses one of which is something along the lines of “the feelings of people 200 years ago were much more real, probably cause they didn’t do drugs”. Then he goes on to say that everybody in society is a sociopath. Sorry but this kid isn’t all rainbows and butterflies and unicorns and “friend club”!!! I received a letter under my door and I felt bad for him at first, but then I went and looked him up on Facebook and got a completely different picture. He is obviously deeply disturbed in some way if you look at him past JUST the letter.

  13. Freshman says:

    Im sure that if they asked him to leave for “safety reasons” and also “mental reasons” as he posted on his Facebook page then they must have found something wrong with him that would put others in danger as well as himself. Sorry but I’d rather have one student leave the campus to make everybody feel safer than have him come out with an Uzi and shoot up all his new “friends” that he would like to “beat with a crowbar”… Sounds like he has a pretty good sense of humor to me!

  14. Eli Gottlieb says:

    I knew Tyler back when I was at UMass. He’s utterly harmless, and this whole affair should be considered a stain upon the University.

  15. hmm says:

    i don’t really see why the ed. would compare molander’s case to other people who were accused of sex crimes, about which there is virtually no information in this article. let alone, as many have pointed out already, the admin’s side of the story. it’s not a very good argument technique to make spurious comparisons when facts are missing or in dispute.

  16. chewy says:

    the fact that the collegian editor allowed this incredibly biased article to be published is amazing

  17. Kelli says:

    People are overreacting about receiving the letters. I received one and thought Molanders’ intentions were harmless, didn’t really think much of it and threw it away. Next thing I know this letter is on the front page of the Collegian. I believe there could have been an alternative approach to the situation and am surprised that it has gotten to this point.

  18. Sean says:

    The Daily Collegian seems to leave out the fact that he has videos posted on his Facebook wall (which everyone can see) of him wearing a paper bag that says “Sociopath” on his head.

    Yeah…..I’m sure he’s mentally stable.

    If I was the university I would be more embarrassed that someone attending the school exhibited such poor writing skills (especially a liberal arts major).

  19. Fed up says:

    This is such a pathetic response to a letter that contained no malicious content, who are any students to assess his psychological state, what do they know? theyre students. The kids who freaked out over this are just looking for drama in their lives. I’m not saying he was right in sending this letter but this response by our student body and the university is an example of bigotry. just terrible. girls get raped, drugged and assaulted every weekend and those kids chill on campus, this kid writes a letter about wanting to make friends and he is forced to withdraw. if this kid was part of the new “bigtime football” campaign none of this would have happend, this is a stain on the university.

  20. Ken says:

    This is the epitome of shabby journalism. The Collegian contributed to Tyler’s problems in the first place, by the front page report after his letter was distributed. Then, when Tyler withdrew from school, the Collegian took only Tyler’s report of the circumstances and are claiming the university acted inappropriately without even knowing the facts beyond Tyler’s own Facebook posts. Even for student journalists, this is terrible reporting.

  21. A reasonable person says:

    http://www.change.org/petitions/university-of-massachusetts-amherst-reinstate-tyler-molander-as-a-student-with-a-full-apology

    Please sign this if you agree that what Tyler did is not morally unsound and shouldn’t have been reprimanded in the way that he was.

  22. Senior says:

    Freshman, you sound like a wonder to be friends with. I’m sure, since you posted twice, that you think you have all of the answers as to what type of person the author is, or anyone is, for that matter, but judgment of this type (i.e. baseless and IMMEDIATE) is what makes people feel the way the author of the letter described in the first place. I personally wish they would kick out more of the thoughtless partiers that trash the campus and bring our reputation (and funds) down than jumping all over someone like this, but c’est la vie. This is ZooMass, we pregame harder than you party, blah blah blah.

    The last sentence was a bad choice on his part, but I can see why he might not want his “old” friends around, if he was trying to make a change. I don’t really care what either side says about him being crazy or not. I just feel he had a good point about some of the idiots that are allowed to pass as students on this campus. And I used to like you all so much, 3 years ago…

  23. Jon says:

    How about printing the letter and letting the reader make up his/her own mind about it, and what they would do if they received it.

  24. Dave says:

    I read his letter as someone who was lonely.

    The University has a duty to help it’s students grow into well rounded men and women through fostering and shepherding all of it’s students – not pruning those who need the most help.

    This student should have been given some help.

  25. The 99% says:

    While I understood the letter it irked me for two reasons.

    1) It was hypocritical; he criticized other people for the social life and seemed to speak down about those who enjoyed the partying atmosphere while promoting his as better. It seemed a bit angry and resentful, though I know many, many students who do not partake in that lifestyle.

    2) The way it was written and delivered, especially with the final line. It seemed very, as I mentioned above, angry and resentful. I for one welcome the administration for double checking, he could have needed help and was just waiting (or too ashamed, as some of my friends have been) to seek counseling as they see it as embarrassing.

  26. M. says:

    I don’t know what to think. I need more information. Give me unbiased information and I will form my own hypothesis. Until then I reserve judgement: to me Molander is innocent until proven guilty.

  27. Sam says:

    I am not a quick to judge, I also feel like I’m a pretty open-minded person; however, reading this letter sunday morning creeped me out, I could hear the psychological instability. And the last line, to me, seemed as if a school shooting, or something of that sort, was a possibility. All a little weird.. maybe not the best way to make friends..

  28. A reasonable person says:

    If you want his reply to the dean, you can read it right on his Facebook.

    Here’s the link:

    http://www.facebook.com/notes/tyler-molander/statement-given-to-and-received-by-the-umass-amherst-dean-of-students-by-tyler-m/373384799345502

    Hopefully this clears out any doubts of mental instability. Just keep an open mind while reading it, please.

  29. Anonymous says:

    What is so hard to understand?

    This is a person asking for human interaction outside of the common college scenes that we are all too familiar with with the possibility of creating meaningful relationships.
    Yeah, you could interpret it as him saying the things you might do every week trivial. But, he isn’t criticizing you for doing it. Who can’t level with this kid? Who doesn’t have friends that are really just a person you get high with or share a hobby but really not much else.
    People are so fucking quick to label someone reaching out asking for companionship as weird or a threat. Sorry for the ramble but it seems like a lot of the people posting are uptight assholes that don’t have a clue.

  30. Lucas says:

    I find it absurd that people took his lack of interest in the partying lifestyle that seems to be the norm at UMass as a columbinesqe threat. Maybe he said he didnt like drinking or drugs because he wanted to meet people like him? because he didnt just want to do what it seems 95% of southwest is about, so he had to write a letter just to find the people who dont live that lifestyle. Hes a philosophy student…thats likely why the letter comes across as so formal. but there is nothing in the letter that seems threatening unless you are a paranoid person who believes that anyone trying to make friends must be suspicious. they claim the final line was threatening, but in reality it makes sense. He spent an entire letter describing how he wanted to make new friends and to break free from the social conformity, so obviously he dosent want his current friends (who assumably were part of what he was sick of) to hamper his new friendships. The letter was clearly meant to appeal to people disenfranchised by the social strata at Umass. The fact that the people who were part of those social constructs perceived it as a threat is not totally surprising, but the administrations reaction was disappointing.

  31. The Green Frog says:

    Putting some things into context, all of this can be gotten from his facebook page:

    From the video with the ‘sociopath’ mask: “I use it [the word 'sociopath'] loosely meaning someone who doesn’t take responsibility for society and for people around them.”

    From the note that begins with the words of a character that enjoys ‘mauling his friends with crowbars’, where he finally breaks character parenthetically: “Oh no. Now comes the time when I need to think about my actions. What will happen as a result? What is this? What is the response? What is the result? I guess it doesn’t matter because no one else will really know because no one will ever try. And for good reason. It’s inconvinient. It’s dull. It’s just too darn complex. I have so many problems. Oh my. (well maybe your problems come from society??? and maybe putting society before yourself will cause all of your problems to get solved??? and maybe ignoring that fact will just cause this problem to get worse??? and maybe that’s obvious??? DUH!!!)”

    He never says ‘the blood of the innocent is on his hands.’ The quote in question is: “We shall meet our own demise at the hands of our own happiness. Those hands are red with the blood of the innocent. With the blood that we ignore all our lives. Because we don’t feel like thinking about it. ”

    From his statement to the Dean, putting the closing line of the letter into context: “I JUST WANTED TO MEET NEW PEOPLE who were interested in exploring friendship with me. Not closed-minded people who didn’t want to be my friend, I didn’t ask them to come. Not people I was already acquainted with, I didn’t ask them to come either.”

  32. Anonymous says:

    I don’t see how people criticize students for worrying about Tyler after seeing that video where he wears a sociopath “mask” and readIng his note mentioning the blood of the innocent on his hands and beating his friends with a crowbar. Tragedies occur too frequently on college campuses and it’s better to be safe than sorry. Also, Tyler rants about his peers being stupid for misinterpretIng his letter and living in our own little bubbles yet he highly criticizes those who drink and do drugs. He puts a label on other people, so why are so many people bashing other students from quickly labeling him? Tyler is a full blown hypocrit and he should realize his own ignorance before he insults other people. After reading everything he’s posted on the internet I’m glad he’s gone. He thinks he knows everything about emotional intelligence and how human interaction should take place but nobody knows the answers to those types of issues. He’s just an arrogant college student who thinks they have it all figured out

  33. Bill Billington says:

    I find this entire article and a good portion of the comments absurd. Simple point of fact:

    A student authored and distributed a letter whose content others have to defend by saying things like “… they pass judgment on others swiftly, barely pausing to suppose the story could have greater depth than their gut reaction might indicate”. So the point being made in this article is that if you read something and your gut is telling you that what you’re reading sounds sociopathic, you should ignore your gut and assume that the author is a really nice guy.

    I’ve read the letter. The last sentence, the “trust me” line, isn’t what set off the warning bells in my mind. The school made the right decision here. Maybe when certain classmates of ours mature by gaining some life experience and perspective, they’ll grow to understand that as well.

  34. Cecil says:

    “Hi! My name is Tyler! We have absolutely nothing in common, we should bond over having nothing in common!

    PS: If you’re friends with me, you shouldn’t hang out with me. Sorry, but we have too much in common.”

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