If you spend any amount of time on Facebook — especially if your posts veer into the world of the political — this sort of thing isn’t unusual. There’s a post, and some comments, and they get heated. And then a friend of a friend jumps in, and things go off the rails.
This episode was no different.
Colin Lively, hair stylist to the rich and famous in New York City and Cleveland, had posted a thread last Thursday night on the police killings in Ferguson, Staten Island and Cleveland. A woman named Deborah O’Connor, a Facebook friend of a friend, interjected.
“YOU elected POTUS, Holder et al. And they are supposed to represent all Americans, not just blacks … why don’t these ass clowns insert themselves into their stories?”
She was just getting started. As the thread went on, and as Lively and others engaged her, O’Connor’s comments took on an increasingly racist, homophobic and just-plain-mean bent:
“Take your Northern fagoot [sic] elitism and shove it up your ass.”
“I teach at a University, you asshole. What do you do?”
“You are an intellectual fraud, just like your Messiah. Obama has single-handedly turned our once great society into a Ghetto Culture, rivaling that of Europe. France is almost at war because of his filthy rodent Muslims who are attacking Native Frenchmen and women.”
“I just looked at your picture and what you do for a living. I’m signing off now. I don’t talk to you people.”
Nobody was safe — not the black president and his black attorney general, who she said want to hand over the country to their fellow blacks and Muslims, not Lively, the “fagoot” hair stylist who started the thread, not anyone else who posted on the thread — all of whom she deemed her intellectual inferiors.
As it turns out, she apparently wasn’t lying about working at a university, or about being a Tallahassee resident with a Ph.D., as she boasted elsewhere on the thread. Since 1995, a Deborah O’Connor has been an instructor at Florida State University, where she teaches business communication (her doctorate is in English), according to her résumé. On ratemyprofessor.com, her students describe her as “sassy” and “entertaining,” “weird and smart but a sour apple,” “quirky” and “energetic.” She’s also an advisor for a fraternity, and heads a student group called Students Supporting Our Troops.
Or, rather, she was until Saturday.
“She attacked Muslims, gays, President Obama for his race,” says Lively, who is white, gay and owns a business called Lively En Mode. “I was fine with her calling people idiots and all that stuff. What was not fine was when she said she teaches in an open university and is a white bigot. What this country does not need is one more white bigot who is in control of young people’s minds, especially one affiliated with an already troubled Florida State University.” (The school has been plagued by controversy related to sexual assault allegations made against its star quarterback, Jameis Winston.)
Susie Sharp, a high-tech consultant from Cleveland who was also posting on that thread, sent an email on Friday to FSU officials expressing her concerns. (Lively affixed his name to her email as well.)
“It is unfathomable to me that Florida State University would condone or approve of ANY university staff behaving in this manner in private, much less in public,” Sharp wrote. “It is horrifying to me to think that this is the kind of person that FSU employs to instruct our youth. She hates black people. She hates gay people. She hates Muslims. She hates people who are ‘underneath’ her and dismissed the poster as ‘I don’t speak to you people.’ She refers to people as ‘moron’ and ‘fagoot’ [sic]. ‘Filthy rodent Muslims’ is another charming moniker. Ms. O’Connor displays more of her people skills when she stated ‘I teach at a University, you asshole.’”
After Folio Weekly called FSU for comment — including President John Thrasher’s office — on Friday, some top FSU officials called O’Connor to task that night, according to sources. She resigned the next day. By Monday morning, her FSU webpage was scrubbed; a school media relations official could not provide exact details about her employment.
FSU officials acknowledged that they received Sharp’s email, but declined to say much more. “We can’t discuss personnel matters,” an FSU spokesperson, who refused to identify herself, told Folio Weekly on Monday, after the magazine requested O’Connor’s resignation letter, which should be public record.
But a College of Business employee didn’t get the memo, and confirmed that O’Connor submitted a written resignation on Saturday.
“Over the weekend we received a letter of resignation,” says Suzanne Barwick, the director of marketing and public relations at FSU’s College of Business. “You would have to talk to the General Counsel’s Office. They handle it.”
Carolyn Egan, FSU general counsel, did not return phone calls.
Messages left Friday on O’Connor’s university phone line were not returned. As of Friday afternoon, her Facebook page had been deleted.
Below is the text of the email Susie Sharp wrote to FSU officials:
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Subject: Racism displayed in public by FSU staff in Facebook rant //
Date: Fri, 5 Dec 2014 15:12:12 -0500
To: John Thrasher President, Florida State University
Garnett S. Stokes Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs
Sally McRorie Vice President Faculty Development and Advancement
Elizabeth Maryanski Vice President for University Relations
Thomas W. Jennings Vice President for University Advancement and President, FSU Foundation
Carolyn Egan General Counsel
Kyle Clark Vice President for Finance and Administration
Cheryl Bakker Special Assistant to the President
Allan Bense Chair of the Board of Trustees
Webmaster City of Tallahassee - please forward this email to Mayor Andrew Gillum
Jeanette Lindsey City of Tallahassee Dept. of Management and Administration
Tallahassee Police Department
CC: Deborah O'Connor
To the FSU Administration, Tallahassee Mayor Gillum, and the Tallahassee Police Department:
On 12/4/2014 Facebook was treated to disturbing bigoted, inflammatory and racial vitriol made publicly by one of FSU's college of business instructors who identified herself as a Ph.D. who lives in Tallahassee and teaches at a University. Her profile wasn't hard to track to the FSU College of Business.
It is unfathomable to me that Florida State University would condone or approve of ANY university staff behaving in this manner in private, much less in public. It is horrifying to me to think that this is the kind of person that FSU employs to instruct our youth. She hates black people. She hates gay people. She hates Muslims. She hates people who are 'underneath her' and dismissed the poster as "I don't speak to you people." She refers to people as 'moron' and 'fagoot' (sic). "Filthy rodent Muslims" is another charming moniker. Ms. O'Connor displays more of her people skills when she stated "I teach at a University, you asshole."
When she saw that the poster was a famous NYC stylist, Ms. O'Connor stated, "You have a garbage man's job. My profile says I live in Tallahassee, and I'm from NJ, but then again, you must have missed your remedial reading class at the DPW." She proudly states that she has a "fucking Ph.D. One of her parting shots was: "I just looked at your picture and what you do for a living. I'm signing off now. I don't talk to you people."
If I were a graduate and saw this kind of vitriol coming from an FSU professor, I can guarantee that FSU would not see another dime of donations from me.
FSU states that its values are "Strength, Skill and Character." Please show me in the thread below where any of those values are portrayed. She is an an embarrassment to the University, much as former GOP Aide Elizabeth Lauten became an embarrassment to the GOP when she chose to ignore the unspoken rule that criticism of a sitting US President's children is off limits - and we know what happened to her as a consequence.
Mayor Gillum and the Police Department: Please review the Facebook thread below. Deborah O'Connor has publicly displayed contempt of President Obama as well as extreme bigotry and racism. In these days of heightened racial tension, it concerns me that FSU employs staff that may be imprinting this bigotry on its students. Lord help us if she has this kind of temper and carries a weapon. FSU has had enough trouble in recent days.