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.