What Privilege Really Looks Like

In November 2015, Annabella Rockwell, Mount Holyoke College Class of 2015 was interviewed by Tucker Carlson to discuss her “brainwashing” at my alma mater, and how before she entered those hallowed halls, she had never experienced misogyny, sexism, or any “isms”. Ms. Rockwell also talked about how her very wealthy mother hired “cult specialists” as well as Ms. Rockwell’s former tennis coach to deprogram her after she graduated and began a life as a campaign staffer for liberal dem candidates. Now a social events coordinator for Prager University, a Christan Values organization, Ms. Rockwell chastised pretty much everything she says Mount Holyoke stands for,

Here’s my response.

I, and two of my daughters attended Mount Holyoke, and I know many other women who attended women’s colleges. None of us are alcoholic man-haters, none of us have ever had to be deprogrammed, all of us have good, well-paying jobs (except for my daughter who is in graduate school and plans to attend medical school), and none of us have ever chopped our hair off in order to make a statement about men. Most of us do not hail from wealthy families (although some of us have earned our own wealth), all of us who have kids have strong, healthy relationships with them, although they don’t always agree with us, know more about computers than we do, and think we are dinosaurs because at one time we did not have smartphones.

My experience, and that of my daughters, was that Mount Holyoke, like most colleges, was a place where freedom of speech was the norm. Yes, it is a liberal environment where great thought is put into making sure all are treated with respect – a fact I do not consider a negative. We live in a global community where a person’s culture may inform their acts and perspective. Is it too much to ask us to consider how a person may be different in ways that might impact how they communicate, what they eat, or what is sacred to them, knowing that the same respect will be shown to us? It seems to me that having an understanding of these things can go a long way towards creating understanding and avoiding conflict.

Liberal arts colleges always have been bastions of high-minded ideals that rarely make it onto Main Street – reality and practicality quickly set in for most young people once they have to pay taxes and live on a budget. Perhaps the greatest gift of a liberal arts education – aside from creating formidable bar trivia competitors – is that, at its best, it encourages its graduates to approach life in general with a broader perspective and an open mind. With most “real world” issues that arise at work or in family life, we do not have the luxury of lengthy philosophical debates that creep into the wee hours of the morning, during which we can flex our academic muscles and cite liberally from our most recent deep dives into de Tocqueville, Schopenhauer, or Adam Smith, but at the very least, we have HAD these discussions, or something like them, and we have internalized the critical thinking that such brain-fests, along with rigorous classroom debate, has instilled in us.

For all her newfound awareness of the evils of a school like Mount Holyoke, I suspect the real turning point for Ms. Rockwell was not so much a “come to Jesus” moment or a heartfelt belief that she had been brainwashed at Mount Holyoke; rather, I suspect that at some point, her family cut off all financial support, and Ms. Rockwell determined (as so many children of wealth have before her) that her principles were less important that her fondness for nice things. The Fox article accompanying the video clip of the interview mentions that Ms. Rockwell worked on the 2016 Hilary for President Campaign and that if she had not seen the error of her ways, she would probably be working for another liberal democrat and spending time with people she had “nothing in common with except drinking.” It isn’t difficult to imagine that most people working for Democratic candidates for office probably don’t come from the sort of privilege that begat Ms. Rockwell, or that their respective upbringings, family values, and bedrock principles were likely quite different.

That Ms. Rockwell’s decision to return to kith and kin was not so much the result of an “aha” moment as the desire to protect her inheritance – not to mention the heavy hand of a mother prone to throwing lead-crystal vases when confronted with the newfangled ideas of a daughter whose conscience had been awakened at college – is readily apparent in photographs that pop up on a Google search of her name, which show Ms. Rockwell attending posh New York and Palm Beach society events with other Rockwell analogs of East Coast heiress privilege – tanned, leggy blondes with blindingly white smiles and clad in figure-hugging mini-dresses. She claims that it was only after sobering up that she realized that she had been brainwashed by Mount Holyoke’s “all men are pigs, all Whites are racists, and all women are victims” dogma.

During her interview with Tucker Carlson, who resembles nothing so much as a brown-sugar-basted ham, so fatuous in his delight at taking down a school like Mount Holyoke (he also mentions Duke University in the introduction to his piece), some of the holes in Ms. Rockwell’s story were evident: Her examples of “indoctrination”?

At Mount Holyoke, first-year students are called “firsties” instead of “freshmen,” because they are women, and students are asked to identify their pronouns – something most people in business have been doing for a few years now. She also explained how in classes, women are challenged to consider how, throughout history, White men have controlled virtually every aspect of life (government, business, theology, medicine, law, etc.), and how this has impacted women and minorities. Ms. Rockwell then responded that she had never experienced either sexism or racism (thus implicitly suggesting that these evils must not actually exist), and that she was forced to reconsider the lies she was taught at Mount Holyoke during protests during the summer of 2020 following the death of George Floyd, when she saw people of color damaging and looting local businesses because this, she felt, was not how an oppressed person should act.

Spoken like a rich White girl.

Finally, Ms. Rockwell relates that she was counseled by professors to detach from her parents and to spend holidays with them during school breaks, rather than going home to her family. While I know many Mount Holyoke professors who opened their homes to students who were unable to leave campus during academic recess, none of the students I have talked to, and neither of my daughters or their friends have ever heard of a professor actively advocating that a student break from their parents. Most of the professors I knew were so busy teaching, grading, conducting office hours, doing their own research, attending conferences, and overseeing independent study (not to mention taking care of their own families and trying to carve out a private life of their own) to engage in such nonsense, and all of them understood how outrageously inappropriate such behavior would have been.

Tucker, giddy with the joy of a White fraternity boy at his first gang rape, could not contain his glee as he talked about the excesses of New England Liberal Arts Colleges (you know – like the one HE went to – Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut) that teach students to hate their parents and fill their heads with nonsense (unless you’re an heir to the Swanson frozen food fortune and your parents had the good sense to raise you Republican and send you to an exclusive Episcopalian boarding school).

Tucker, that paragon of good sense, the man who stands on the pinnacle of the moral high ground, warned all parents to be sure not to fall for this trap! After all, poor Ms. Rockwell’s parents had to hire both a deprogrammer, at $300/day, AND her former tennis coach, to force her to atone for her sins and admit she was wrong, wrong, WRONG for all the things she had thought and and to re-teach her how to think the RIGHT THINGS. That doesn’t sound at all like indoctrination or brainwashing to me.

Ms. Rockwell now works for Prager U, a Christian organization the peddles videos that teach kids to “man up,” not be such woke sissies, and to ignore the culture of victimhood because Black people got three square meals a day, guaranteed lifetime employment, and free housing. She’s an events coordinator and spends a lot of time posting on Insta, looking great in white jeans and high-heeled sandals and in shots with her mother, the formidable Melinda Rockwell, to whom Ms. Rockwell once attempted to explain the concept of “oppression,” only to be shouted down by a mother who admits that she refused to even listen to her daughter’s new ideas and opinions. Sounds like the Rockwell home was the kind of place where one felt free to express one’s thoughts and opinions, without fear of reproach (or being hit with a lead-crystal vase).

Ms. Rockwell believes she was badly done by Mount Holyoke, and that’s a shame, because most Mount Holyoke alumnae are overwhelmingly loyal to their alma mater and consider their time there to be among the most valuable of their lives. Perhaps their parents were less threatened by any new perspectives they brought home from college with them – my conservative Army colonel father could have not disagreed more with my bleeding heart liberal views formed and nurtured at Mount Holyoke, but it was in fact he who encouraged me to go there in the first place, even though he knew precisely what he was in for. He knew Mount Holyoke would challenge me, and teach me how to think. We argued loud and long over Iran-Contra and Ronald Reagan and trickle-down economics and Margaret Thatcher, and we NEVER ONCE agreed – but he respected that I had become a critical thinker who had learned to make a strong, coherent argument (even if, in his opinion, I was wrong).

Teaching women to be rigorous, independent thinkers and to pursue excellence in all aspects of their lives, has always been the primary goal of Mount Holyoke and other women’s colleges, which were founded because there were no institutions of higher learning for women. What Tucker Carlson, and men of his ilk, don’t tell women like Ms. Rockwell, is that if they had their way, colleges like Mount Holyoke would never have been founded, and wouldn’t exist. They pay lip service to inclusivity and will applaud the achievements of women – as long as those women stay in their lane, don’t strive for too much power or control, and for God’s sake, retain their femininity (in other words – stay fuckable).

Women should be allowed to work outside the home – as long as they know their place, and that place is in support of men, or at home raising their children. When women do venture into the workplace, that’s okay, as long as they know that they are also there to satisfy whatever sexual whims they may stir in the loins of the men with whom they work. You certainly can’t ask men like Roger Ailes to be surrounded by the hotness of Kimberly Guilfoyle and not need a blow job from an admin once in a while. As long as the women understand that, then they can stay.

Liberal arts colleges scare people like Tucker Carlson and Fox Nation, because they produce graduates who tend to speak up when they see racism, sexism, or oppression of any kind – you know, the way Ms. Rockwell did until her inheritance looked like it was in jeopardy. They don’t vote for misogynists or bigots or xenophobes. They think people who send asylum seekers to Martha’s Vineyard, with no notice to anyone on that tiny island that they are coming, are dog-shit eating pus-fucks.

Graduates of liberal arts colleges may be artsy and pretentious, but they also know how to spell and use grammar, and they often have credentials and economic power that enable them greater opportunities to fight oppression in the workplace, demand equality, and use their voice (and income) to support initiatives aimed at protecting the weakest among us. Translation: Liberal arts college graduates are a threat to racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, anti-LGBTQism…any –ism that threatens a minority because it isn’t White, male, straight, and Christian.

Places like Mount Holyoke are even more of a threat, because there is nothing that scares a straight White Christian man like Tucker Carlson more than a lesbian – and not the ones in a porn flick. Nothing shrivels up a chubby faster than someone like Rachel Maddow – because guys like Tucker know that someone like Rachel Maddow can smell his bullshit wrapped 15 layers of 5” foam, stuffed in a cargo hold, on board a freighter, 1,500 miles out at sea. Someone like Rachel Maddow knows that Tucker Carlson has three “hilarious stories,” all of which involve his fraternity brothers and large quantities of alcohol, which he has refined over the years, and she isn’t going to giggle along with him and encourage him in his certitude that she – like all women – want to sleep with him. Women like Ms. Rockwell giggle. Mount Holyoke graduates who haven’t renounced their education, don’t.

Melinda Rockwell, and Tucker Carlson, have gotten Ms. Rockwell to reject all she learned at Mount Holyoke (where, like my daughter Caitlin, she played on the women’s ice hockey team), and one imagines that her life, at least for the next twenty years, will be one long parade of charity luncheons, society balls, and museum fundraisers. She will be photographed in beautiful dresses, designer gowns, fabulous jewelry, clutching Hermes handbags; standing on the steps of the Met, or on the ski slopes of Gstaad, or in Milan or Paris or really, anywhere exotic enough to warrant her presence. She may never again think about the things she learned in college and, careful not to repeat the mistakes of her mother, will insist that her own progeny attend Liberty University or Ave Maria University of Rich White Republican University (No POC Need Apply). There’s a Mount Holyoke education inside Ms. Rockwell, however, and I’m hoping it will come out someday. Just you wait, Tucker, and see what happens if it does.


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