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Presumed candidate for SA president backs out of running after being ‘cyberbullied’

Jordan Yee | Photographer
SA Vice President Kate Carpenter said she ultimately decided against running after becoming an increasingly frequent target of disparaging social media posts.

Two contenders will face off in this year’s Student Association presidential race, but the most anticipated candidate has opted against running, citing cyberbullying that nearly led her to take time off from school and appeared to trigger a student conduct complaint.

Sitting in the airport to head home for winter break, Student Association Vice President Kate Carpenter decided on Dec. 20 that she would run for the SA’s top job. She drafted a campaign platform and sent it to Anna Weber, the senior policy adviser to the executive branch.

The platform included roughly a dozen ideas, like installing exercise bikes at library study stations and rentable telehealth rooms for students to participate in therapy sessions privately. Members of Carpenter’s team said they had also planned to highlight her record as vice president, accomplishing GW’s enrollment in U-Pass, a long-stalled initiative, and the expansion of SafeRide to several off-campus locations.

“There was a ton of momentum,” Weber said. “And it’s always better when you have actual stuff to be able to run on.”

When classes resumed in January, Carpenter and her aides had continued preparing for a campaign, taking headshots and beginning to film an announcement video. The campaign would also focus on maintaining new traditions Carpenter started to improve school spirit, like Raise High Wednesdays and President’s Weekend Palooza.

“I started those very confident about the future of them, but I wasn’t sure where they would go if I didn’t do them for the SA,” Carpenter said.

But Carpenter’s name didn’t appear on the candidate list finalized by the Joint Elections Commission on Wednesday.

In interviews, Carpenter and her team said she ultimately decided against running after becoming an increasingly frequent target of disparaging social media posts, many of which were made anonymously, that Carpenter said constituted cyberbullying.

Dozens were published on the largely anonymous social media platform “Jeti,” which shares content posted close by to a user’s location.

“Yea we bully racists get off Jeti kate carpenter,” one anonymous user wrote in a post on Feb. 21.

An Instagram satire account that became active Dec. 11 under the username “@gwheadlines” frequently targets Carpenter, maintaining a story archive titled “Kate” that includes anonymous messages about her sent from the account’s followers.

“If there was a drinking game where you’d take a shot every time a sorority girl says Kate has done so much, you’d be dead,” one post read.

The account also has a story archive with anonymous messages about SA President Brandon Hill, including criticisms that Hill did not immediately release a statement in response to allegations of racism and ableism in classroom settings earlier this year.

Catherine Morris, Hill’s chief of staff, said he was supportive of Carpenter but declined to provide further comment.

The owner of the account, which is run anonymously, said Carpenter has a history of “dismissing” and “suppressing” minority voices to further her political agenda. They said Kate has an “exceptionally rude demeanor” when talking to student org leaders and sports coaches.

“As for cyber bullying, our page believes in criticism that reflects her behavior and policies,” they said in an Instagram message.

On Dec. 17, an Office of Student Rights & Responsibilities staff member sent letters to Carpenter and at least two other students, writing that a report led officials to believe they may have been harmed by an Instagram page that may be targeting specific members of the GW community. Senior Justin Diamond and SA Sen. Yan Xu, ESIA-U, who were also named in @gwheadlines posts, said they received the letters.

Carpenter said she did not file the report and was unaware who did. The letters did not specify what Instagram account was reported.

Christy Anthony, the director of SRR, declined to confirm whether the office received a complaint in connection with the social media posts or say if GW is currently investigating the posts.

“We review all reports we receive and address them as fully as the provided information allows, consistent with University policy and our ethic of restorative practices,” Anthony said in an email.

She added that anyone concerned about student behavior can report incidents on the office’s website. She encouraged students to combat harmful speech with their own speech in support of transparency and care for all community members.

“A challenge of social media is that people often use its anonymous features to hide their own identity while causing great harm,” Anthony said. “Research suggests that this harm is perpetrated disproportionately against women and other people who hold historically and currently marginalized identities. When online attacks decrease leadership diversity, our entire community is negatively impacted.”

Weber, the senior policy adviser, called the posts a “disingenuous” campaign targeted at Carpenter herself, rather than her policies.

“I know the extent to which she cares about this role and cares about students,” Weber said. “But to see that amount of pushback – no one deserves that.”

As the posts continued, Carpenter said she struggled to maintain composure in classes and go about her daily routine. She said she started wearing a mask outside and changed her wardrobe so people wouldn’t recognize her walking around campus.

“I’m a 21-year-old woman that can’t pull myself out of bed because I’m being cyberbullied,” she said. “That is, frankly, extremely concerning. And I’m very strong, and I have always been a very independent person and have not cared about what other people thought about me.”

On Feb. 9, the Instagram account @gwprotectsrapists, which had become a focal point for students’ recent criticisms of the Title IX Office, lambasted Carpenter, arguing that she was not doing enough to protect sexual assault survivors on campus. The post included a screenshot of the email Carpenter sent to the Title IX office and said Carpenter did not follow up with members of gwprotectsrapists.

“Hey Kate Carpenter, remember when you said gwprotectsrapists was your number one priority as SA VP but then sent one email to Asha Reynolds asking for a meeting and never followed up with us after asking for our numbers,” the post, which has since received more than 420 likes, read.

The account owner did not respond to an Instagram direct message requesting comment.

Carpenter said she began changing her mind about running on Feb. 10 and made a final decision the following Wednesday.

Carpenter said she considered temporarily leaving her classes to travel home but decided against it so she could still attend President’s Weekend Palooza, which she had been planning for months. The four-day series of events included a student organization banner contest and blood drive.

Junior Chris Johnson, Carpenter’s chief of staff, said the “constant” posts took a toll on Carpenter, which ultimately led to her decision that running for president was “not worth it.” He said the executive team kept track of the posts and checked in with Carpenter as the posts become more frequent.

“I feel like as chief of staff, I’m supposed to be like, ‘How can I fix this?’” Johnson said. “And to be honest, it’s a lot out there and there’s not much you can do, so it was just more information gathering.”

Carpenter acknowledged “shortcomings” during her tenure but said many posts claiming she was making decisions in pursuit of an SA presidential campaign came after she decided against running, adding that the posts often attributed blame to her for actions she couldn’t control.

“I do believe that I was held to an unfair standard of every action that every single person in the SA took,” she said. “And that’s something that one woman cannot do nor be in charge of.”

Junior David Lee, Carpenter’s deputy chief of staff, called the posts “horrendous.” He said tracking the posts became a constant part of his role.

“Seeing her in so much pain, it’s the first time where it was visible,” Lee said.

Despite recent weeks, Carpenter said she did not regret running for vice president.

“But when I was broken that much to the point where I was going to fly home, something had to change,” she said.

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