By Brooke Schultz
A man claiming to be a journalist and Frederick Douglass scholar has been contacting Washington College staff and students online.
John Muller, co-founder of a group called “16th & W Douglassonians,” began posting on Facebook about the College conferring an honorary degree to Douglass at tomorrow’s Convocation.
The Elm could not confirm that he works for any of the news organizations he claims to be employed by, nor find any website for information about 16th & W Douglassonians other than Muller’s blog.
Muller’s posts and messages revolve mostly around David Blight, professor of history at Yale University and director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition, who is scheduled to discuss Douglass and receive the College’s Award for Excellence at Convocation.
Director of Public Safety Gerald Roderick said that, as with any campus event that features a speaker, they are preparing accordingly.
“Whatever the event is that we’re working on, we always have to look at who’s the messenger, what support might be out there, what opposition might be out there, what does our level of preparedness need to be for this event,” he said. “Then we start tracking social media and history of whatever speaker is coming in, just to get a sense for what has been their impact for the events they’ve gone to, what has been the audience’s responses to them.”
Roderick said that they do that in multiple ways, such as reaching out to colleagues at institutions throughout Maryland, Virginia, and Delaware.
“That helps prepare us for the following a person has; that could be positive or negative,” he said. With that information, they build it into how to prepare for any event the College is hosting.
“Whatever the speaker, more likely than not, there’s going to be someone out there who has some opposition to them,” he said. “We do our due diligence.”
For this particular instance, Roderick said, “Public Safety is aware and we’re monitoring what’s going on.”
In his first Facebook post referencing the College honoring Douglass, posted on Sunday, Jan. 28, Muller wrote, “ayo. hope they think I’m still playing at Washington College. made some calls. found out what I need to know bout Chestertown. … I told the President of the University. Was told message was received. These folks really think I’m kidding out here.”
The Elm was tagged in that message.
The same day, he posted several photos, taken at the waterfront at the end of High Street by the Chester River.
When he came to campus, he allegedly reached out to students, “Basically trying to get students on board to carry his message out,” Roderick said. “Students quite frankly weren’t interested. They felt the communications were becoming harassing [and they] didn’t want to get involved with the conflict.”
Public Safety received several reports afterward and met with student organizations affected, including The Elm.
“We brought them on board with Public Safety’s plan moving forward,” Roderick said. “We wanted to inform our students that were involved as to what we were doing with that, so that they would know how to respond if there was further unwanted outreach from him…It’s OK for people to have freedom of expression, but I don’t think it’s OK for them to come in and impose their views and have the students carry out a message they want carried out if it’s not the students’ message.”
Following that, Muller posted an email he allegedly sent to the College and cc’d Adam Goodheart, director of the Starr Center for the American Experience, which said, “From my perspective as a W Street Douglassonian, David W Blight is an exploitative historian and for more than a decade has been an academic disgrace to the field of Douglass Studies.”
The Elm was tagged in that message.
The following day, on Monday, Jan. 29, Muller contacted The Elm via Facebook, requesting to speak with the editor-in-chief, and later contacted the editor-in-chief via campus email.
The Elm did not respond to any of his messages.
Since then, Muller has posted several things regarding Blight. On Monday, Muller posted that, “Now I have a moment or two to re-focus my energy on the fraudulence and duplicitous actions of Washington College in awarding some sort of award to the make-believe ‘Douglass scholar’ David W Blight who speaks on the research of others such as ‘Frederick Douglass in Washington, D.C.: The Lion of Anacostia’ and acts as though it is his own.”
“We just look at it as someone has expressed a difference of opinion; that’s not going to change the event we’re holding. It’s a traditional event we hold twice a year,” Roderick said. “We look forward to a well-attended Convocation. To get the great-great grandson of Frederick Douglass here is quite an accomplishment. We’re looking forward to it on Friday.”