Online Franciscan community faces crisis of charity


Students are saying that the Facebook group “Frannies Talk to Each Other,” has gone rogue.

According to the group’s description, it exists so that, “All questions, comments, and concerns regarding dat franny lyfe (sic) may be placed here.” However, over the past semester, the group has increasingly featured heated arguments, name calling and a passive-aggressive manner that has created an obvious divide for many students.

This group, along with other social media mediums used by Franciscan University students such as “Overheard at Franciscan,” has seen a spike in negative posts as several students have observed an unprecedented divisiveness coming from the page.

Many students point to the spandex “controversy” on Oct. 10, a post which garnered more than 1,000 comments before the student who made the post turned off commenting, and the ongoing debate between traditionalists and charismatics on the virtues of the respective movements as the starting points of the divisiveness.

The spandex post was made after a student wearing spandex shorts was allegedly told to “put on pants or leave the (Finnegan Fieldhouse),” according to the post, which accused the university of shaming and sexualizing women. In the ensuing madness, dozens of students took to their keyboards to defend the student who was reprimanded, while a similar amount of students defended the university’s dress code. The comments, eventually totaling more than 1,000, were emotionally-driven in most cases, which fueled the content of the comments.

The traditional vs. charismatic debate began after several students took offense to the Rev. Gregory Plow’s homily made during a Mass in the Extraordinary Form. Plow’s use of the term “spiritual contraception,” was sharply criticized by some students, who felt it was a personal attack on them. In the several posts since the Mass on Oct. 29, debate has turned attacks on both the charismatic and traditional way of worship.

Over the course of the semester, posts regarding both incidents have produced comments such as “boys can’t control themselves!!!!” “Take trads down a peg” and “Thanks for your asinine comment.”

Freshman Theresa Bova lamented the inflammatory comments, saying that they create an environment of divisiveness among the student body.

“It creates an ‘us vs. them’ mentality that happens online and continues into how people treat each other,” she said.

So what is causing the divisiveness?

Bova suggested that the root of the problem is a combination of two things: students having an outlet and effects of a world drowning in politics.

“It is stressed-out college students with an outlet and an overly politicized society that is brought into Franciscan, which causes students to pick sides,” she said.

Junior Patrick Neve agreed with Bova, saying, “Every one of these debates is based off Republicans vs. Democrats.”

“Traditionally-minded people tend to be conservatives and they view charismatics as liberals,” said Neve. “They’re getting caught up in debates, not about the subject, but more just to see who’s on my team. It’s a battle of stereotypes.”

Junior philosophy major Amelia Haynes said that the initial introduction of opinion opens the door for more disagreement and even anger, which leads to a crisis of charity.

“I think it’s an issue of pride sometimes, just wanting to be right, and when they don’t see my view, I just get angry instead of responding in love,” said Haynes, speaking generally. “We’re angry, so we want them to be angry in return.”

“Frannies Talk to Each Other” counts more than 2,000 people as followers, which includes current students, faculty, alumni and prospective students. All have witnessed the barrage of name-calling and vitriol, and some have expressed concern.

Haynes said that she has friends who are members of the group “because they find it entertaining to watch us burn each other down.” She said that because “Frannies Talk to Each Other” is a public page, anyone can see it, which concerns her.

“What they see is not Christian charity, but even if those incidents are the smallest minority … that’s what they will see as representative of Franciscan University.”

Eugene Gan, a professor in the university’s Communication Arts Department, expressed disappointment at the conduct displayed on “Frannies Talk to Each Other,” calling it “part of our fallenness.”

“Dirty laundry doesn’t need to be online for others to then partake in,” Gan said. “That’s how it escalates into this ugly mess.”

Gan authored a book titled “Infinite Bandwidth: Encountering Christ in the Media,” which he said could be referenced when trying to move past this problem. Gan said that personalism, or seeking out the dignity in the person, can help students understand “the school of forgiveness.” He urged students to discuss the issues presented in person and with charity.

However, senior Zacchaeus Lock said that he believes that online interactions are the best medium for these discussions.

“I see the internet as the best place (for these discussions) because the internet is public,” Lock said in an email. “To whatever divisiveness there is, my best advice is to get a thicker skin and listen to people who have different ideas.”

There have been attempts to help students move on from the tension that “Frannies Talk to Each Other” seems to have created. Lock runs another Facebook group called “Frannies Argue with Each Other,” which Lock says is a “spoof” of the other group, providing commentary on what goes on in “Frannies Talk to Each Other.”

Neve and Bova also run a meme-based group called “Rad Marian Memes for Franciscan Teens,” which Bova describes as “an art studio for memes” that she hopes will spur discussions similar to “Frannies Talk to Each Other” in a more effective way.

“(Rad Marian Memes) is the paradise of memes that are supposed to start conversations,” she said.

Lock, Neve and Bova do not expect to replace “Frannies Talk to Each Other” – Bova believes that the group originally had a good intent – but that in order to restore civility, there needs to be greater moderation in the group.

The group currently only has one administrator, a former student named Jess Lennon, who has maintained control of the group since its inception in 2013. Over the course of the current semester, several attempts have been made by students trying to reach the administrator, including for this story, to which she did not respond.

Junior Jacob Watson, one of the students who messaged Lennon, said that he believes the only way “Frannies Talk to Each Other” can survive is if current students are added as administrators to the group who are able to take an active role in moderating its activities.

Other members of the group question the need to continue using it. As one person commented on an Oct. 12 post, “This group officially needs to be burnt to the ground. And never resurrected.”