Unequal Access to Email Lists

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

On Monday, College Vice President Maurice Eldridge sent an email on behalf of Earthlust to students and faculty urging them to consider fasting from December 7-18, the dates of the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, to signal “a readiness to act on behalf of sustaining the planet by fasting (not eating, not consuming).“  We should all admire members of Earthlust for their interest in and devotion to preserving the environment.  Nevertheless, while Earthlust is certainly entitled to its opinions, it is not entitled to spamming the entire campus with its frivolous and peculiar impulses.
Note that this isn’t the first time Eldridge or other administrators have emailed the community about non-academic issues.  During blood drives and election periods, Eldridge and Registrar Martin Warner alert the community of information pertinent to these charitable and Democratic processes.  But Eldridge’s most recent email isn’t pertinent to the entire community.
In an email correspondence with me, Eldridge explained his motivations for sending the email. “As I am a member of the Sustainability Committee this seemed to me a message central to a direction increasingly important both to the campus and to the future that it should be shared in this way.“ 
But there are other issues that are also “increasingly important both to the campus and to the future.“  Some that immediately come to mind include health care reform, the war in Afghanistan, genocide in Darfur and Burma, and financial regulatory reform, among many others.  Groups associated with these seemingly unprivileged causes use the apparently insufficient RSD.
In light of these other issues, Eldridge’s explanation seems inadequate.  Why is this matter unique?  Will other student groups have the opportunity to email the entire community about issues that concern them?  Will there be equal access to these email lists, whether it’s a pro-life student group or one that supports the Employee Free Choice Act? 
My criticism of the message doesn’t stop here, however.  Unlike the spam message I received at 9:53 on Friday from donovanp@si.edu that read ‘_”!WE OFFER YOU HAPPINESS.!”_’ Eldridge’s message did the opposite.  Fasting during the Copenhagen Conference to protest excessive consumerism is just frivolous.
In fact, last week’s report from the United Nations Population Fund makes it seem as though fasting won’t be enough.  It encouraged policymakers at the upcoming Copenhagen Conference to consider how population growth contributes to climate change.  “No human is genuinely “carbon neutral,” especially when all greenhouse gases are figured into the equation” says the report. 
According to a study published by Oregon State University statisticians last August, no matter how hard green activists might try to reduce their carbon footprints, a cute newborn will always outweigh parents’ carbon-cutting conquests with its abhorrently insidious potential for excessive consumerism.
The UNPF report agrees.  “Each birth results not only in the emissions attributable to that person in his or her lifetime, but also the emissions of all his or her descendants.“ 
Based on these reports, it doesn’t seem like fasting will be enough.  Instead, maybe we should fast for 36 hours so we can really show our devotion.  Even better, let’s not eat for 48 hours and stop excessively consuming goods.  I’m really not sure what that means, or how it’ll help developing countries, though.  Because it’s not like American consumption of foreign goods in which foreign nations have a comparative advantage is at all a part of lifting people in developing nations out of poverty.  That’s silly talk. 
And since Americans have much larger carbon footprints than people living in developing countries and the UNPF says that we’re responsible for not only our own carbon footprint but that of our descendents, why don’t we just say what we’re all probably thinking and just regulate birth rates?  China’s policy would be a great model.  Then we probably wouldn’t even need to go through the trouble of fasting. 
[In case you chose not to read between the lines, the preceding paragraph was a bit of vitriol.]

When Eldridge sent Monday’s email, he stepped onto a slippery slope.  If Eldridge sends emails on behalf of student groups that support issues that are arguably “increasingly important,” then the administration must establish a formal process by which all student groups can access the inboxes of members of our community.  It’s not fair that select groups can email the community only because they have the inside scoop on how to do it.
But I’m not sure I want student groups to send me daily updates on events probably only relevant to them.  I get enough email as it is.  If every student group with an “increasingly important” agenda sent the community emails whenever they pleased, then it wouldn’t be so hard to characterize such emails as spam as well.
Earthlust’s planned stunt may seem silly, but don’t let it distract you from the real issue at hand.  All student groups must be granted the same access to the community, where Swarthmoreans are free to pay as much or as little attention to announcements as they please.  When one group gets additional access from some insider information, it achieves an unfair advantage in the competitive advertising marketplace for Swatties’ time and attention.  And you know how I get when markets fail.

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