A follow-up about Virginia Quarterly

Front-page image from Slate's website promoting their article on the Virginia Quarterly (click the image to go to their story).

Back in August, I wrote a post about the tragic suicide of Kevin Morrissey; in that post, I commented on one aspect of the narrative unfolding at the time, namely, the dangers of workplace bullying and the need for our vigilance in fighting it.

That post has received a lot of traffic since, partly from VQR‘s own blog post on the subject and partly because of continuing coverage in the mass media.  But that post is a response to just one aspect of this narrative, the one put forth by the Chronicle of Higher Ed article that started the national attention to Morrissey’s tragic death.  This week, Slate offered a very lengthy follow-up to the story and an alternate perspective on what happened at VQR, and I feel it’s important that I share their version here as well.

In Slate‘s view, my earlier post bought into an anti-bullying narrative; the author, Emily Bazelon, seems to suggest that we all were fools to do so.  But I’m glad that I did.  I said in that first post that whether or not Ted Genoways acted as a bully wasn’t really the point; the point was that the issue of workplace bullying had been raised, and we cannot ignore charges of bullying if we ever hope to defeat bullying.  Despite all the news coverage and editorials and in-depth studies (the Slate article is something like 4,800 words long), I don’t really know what happened in the small and insular community of the VQR staff.  I agree that the Chronicle had an agenda, spelled out loudly in the verb they chose for their article’s title, “What Killed Kevin Morrissey?”  I believe Slate has the opposite agenda, spelled out neatly in their text but also apparent in their web layout, in which they lead the article with a large, professional photo of Genoways and then show a much smaller candid photo of Morrissey, which shows him alone in a crowded room, small and centered in the frame but isolated from the activity around him.  The Chronicle wanted to sell us the idea that someone else was to blame for Morrissey’s death; Slate wants to sell us the idea that Morrissey’s depression and isolation were to blame.

Both those narratives miss the point, I think.  What we should be focusing on is not who gets blamed for what, but that when someone feels bullied, or oppressed, or depressed (and Morrissey was certainly the latter and possibly the former), we all should act as much as possible to foster communication, respect, and compassion for everyone involved.  And I continue to advocate for that.

For more on how to help each other through such difficult, emotional times, please consider the following links (and feel free to share other resources in the comments):


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