Campbell_Erickson_Fossil_Fuel_Divest_Harvard

How to Win the Breakup and Save the Planet

Harvard student Allison Chang went viral for roasting her Fox News correspondent ex. ‘This climate change stuff is real,’ she says. ‘I don’t have tolerance for him trying to milk it for whatever internet fame he’s going for.’

“I honestly didn’t think it was going to be that viral,” says Harvard senior Allison Chang. “If anything, maybe it’d be a bit cathartic for me.” That part is an understatement: Not everyone has the chance to watch their ex make an ass of himself on Fox News and then shame him for not going down on you.

Of course, viral is exactly what happened. The ex, Christopher Colby, went on Fox and Friends to criticize the climate protest at last week’s Harvard-Yale football game, an action Chang had helped organize. Colby, a contributor to right-wing publication Campus Reform, called it “empty,” “poorly planned” and “really annoying.”

“I saw a familiar smarmy grin in the link preview and my heart immediately sank,” Chang, an applied-math major, says. But when she saw he was being roasted on Twitter, she replied, “I broke up with this guy a week ago and am honestly feeling so vindicated rn.” Then, the coup de grâce: “he doesn’t eat out, but you already knew that.”

“The bottom line is, this climate change stuff is real,” Chang says. “And I don’t really have tolerance for him trying to milk it for whatever internet fame he’s going for, it’s absurd.”

Typically, reply tweets don’t get much attention, but this was no typical situation. Chang’s tweet was screencapped by Bobby Lewis, a writer for Media Matters, who has about 33,000 followers. An all-caps “THIS WEBSITE IS FREE” is always a good sign you’re about to witness a murder by tweet. It snowballed from there.

Within hours, Chang was flooded with messages from “random friends from high school,” a sure sign that something you’ve done has reached beyond your social bubble. “I didn’t think that this was going to blow up the way it has, so once it started to gain more traction, I was like, ‘Ohhh, no, this is bad,’” she laughs. “I felt pretty bad, like, this guy just got literally roasted way more than I expected. But still, I stand by it. I don’t regret anything. It’s only brought more attention to our cause.”

We spoke to Chang about that cause, Divest Harvard; what the media doesn’t get about campus politics; Mayor Pete’s most embarrassing gaffe; dating conservative guys on a liberal campus; and what her Fox News-watching dad thinks of all this.

MEL: I’m curious about how you two got together. 
Chang: He joined a theater group I’m in. He joined that band, and I was on the tech crew; it’s more of a creative space, and less political. Politics wasn’t exactly on the mind when we met.

Everyone’s like, “Oh, he’s the worst person ever, how could you possibly date him?” And I’m like, “You know he’s a musician. He seemed like a nice guy! There are layers!” To be fair, if I only knew him from the clip, I probably would’ve been like, “Yeah, I wouldn’t date him either.”

[But] I like debate and dialogue, being open-minded. For example, Harvard had at one point mandated that all the sororities and fraternities go all-gender. And especially in terms of having women’s spaces on campus, that was something that was controversial. So [Colby] went on Fox News about that, and I thought, Okay, there’s definitely a dialogue to be had.

This was something totally different. When I saw [him] dismissing the Divest protest, I was like, That’s absurd. I can’t even. I’m totally gonna roast him for this. When [we were dating,] I mentioned to him that I was involved with Divest. He was like, “You know, I don’t necessarily agree with their methods, but I think climate change is an important issue, and I understand what their motivations are.” So it was interesting to see this shift happen. Like, all right, maybe you’re a hypocrite. Maybe you lie. Just another reason for me to roast you.

Can you piece together the timeline for me?
We met at the end of October, got together pretty much right away, but split after only about two weeks. I’m graduating from Harvard at the end of this semester (in about three weeks), and we reached a point where we didn’t want to get more involved if I was leaving town so soon. We didn’t know each other well enough to decide then-and-there that we’d try to do long distance. We parted amicably, but of course then this Fox thing happened. Maybe that humanizes him a bit, but it is what it is!

I was with him when he got the framed Fox News picture in the mail [from a previous appearance]. He got the envelope, and it had his address handwritten by some intern, I guess. And he opens it and pulls this frame out, and he was like, “You can’t tell anyone about this. Like, this looks really bad.” He knew it was terrible. And I was like, “Oh, yeah, sure, definitely won’t!”

What’s the overall political atmosphere on campus? Is it as tense as Fox and some media present it?
Harvard is probably 80 percent liberal, and of the conservatives, very few are very strongly right wing. It’s definitely hard to categorize all the conservatives as one thing. Maybe race. Most of them are white.

But there aren’t really a lot of clashes that happen publicly. This [climate action] was kind of a rare one. I think conservatives, especially if they have very strong views, are somewhat in hiding. They don’t really post on their own social media. There’s a group at Harvard called the John Adams Society where conservatives will get together and debate, kind of in secret. It’s actually really funny. They were only founded, like, 10 years ago, but they have all these mysterious laws and things, like, super-mystical. It seems like they’ve adopted a lot of it from what is available online and what is known about Oxford secret societies. It’s just funny to me that they have this fake mysticism for a relatively new organization at Harvard. Some people like that stuff, I guess. I think someone from John Adams had a connection to Fox, and that’s how [Colby] got involved. He’s kind of become the default student they invite to weigh in on Harvard things.

You mentioned the fraternity and sororities — what’s happening there? How has that impacted social life at Harvard?
So there were three frats and four sororities. The big thing at Harvard are the final clubs. If you’ve seen The Social Network, Eduardo Saverin gets into one of those clubs. They’re private social clubs that aren’t affiliated with any national Greek organization. They have a ton of money, lots of alumni. Those are the clubs that have been known for bussing in women from other schools and having crazy parties. So Harvard imposed sanctions primarily to try and make those groups more inclusive and all-gender. Some of them actually did change their policies, but an interesting side effect was that smaller groups like sororities also had to go all-gender. There was some mumbling and grumbling about that. In what used to be Kappa Alpha Theta at Harvard, we have four male members, and they’re super-sweet and great, and it’s still very much a women’s space. So in the end, it was all fine, but I think people were really concerned at the time: Like, ‘Are guys going to try and join this group to try and get with us?’ But I think it’s ultimately been for the better.

The biggest issue with those clubs is actually that it’s really more socioeconomic inequality than gender inequality, unfortunately. So now you have rich boys and rich girls in these clubs and the income demographics have really not changed at all. I guess it’s really hard to force clubs to take people of different demographics.

But a lot of it is also an issue of openness. Like at Princeton, a lot of the eating club parties, if you just have a Princeton ID you can get in. Whereas at Harvard, there’s often a strict list, or if you’re a guy you can’t get in. I think a quick way to fix that would be to make those more inclusive. So if you have an ID, you can get into a party. Stuff like that would really go a long way.

Tell me more about class issues and social life at Harvard.
I’d say [socioeconomic status] is the biggest determiner of where people spend their time and who they mix with. Harvard social life is pretty much determined by what extracurricular groups you’re a part of. So a lot of people do derive their identity on campus by being part of groups that do have a purpose, like being on the Harvard Crimson, or things where you produce a product, like my theater group. Or there are social clubs that aim to aggregate likeminded people.

Speaking of roasting dweebs, what does campus think of fellow Harvard man Mayor Pete
One joke that goes around on campus is that Pete will always talk about how he was part of the Institute of Politics, or the IOP. But for us, the IOP is just a really boring group of gov kids who don’t really get all involved, just kind of sit around and listen to old senators talk. It’s, like, the definition of a weird flex.

A lot of my friends who’ve graduated are now volunteering for him, but we’re all supportive, like, “Maybe it’ll work out.” But I don’t think people are really particularly attached to him, and I don’t think people think he’s a saint. A lot of us are like, “Wow, he did exactly what he was supposed to do to run for president from Harvard! Good for him!”

Tell me about Divest Harvard. What was its goal for the protest?
The goal of Divest is to get the Harvard management company, which invests Harvard’s endowment, away from certain sources of revenue. So the main one is Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard. That’s gasoline, oil, coal, etc. There are other vocal ones: Private Prison Divest Harvard and potentially Puerto Rican Debt Divesting.

Fossil Fuel is the big one, that’s what most of the protests (or we say “actions”) have been about. Basically, to put pressure on Harvard to get that public opinion. And that’s why the protest was so successful. It was this overwhelming wave of public opinion supporting the protest highlighting Harvard’s inaction and unresponsiveness. So in terms of the mission statement, the protest did exactly what they wanted it to do.

This one was definitely huge. People were so nervous. I didn’t participate, but one of my best friends was one of the organizers. He got quoted by the NYT and also got arrested. We were really nervous going into this because of that. He’s going to apply to grad school, and getting arrested is never a good thing to have on your record. So people were really putting their reputations at stake for this. There was a lot on the line.

What did you take away from this whole experience?
When people sent me initial links to the [Fox News] clip, their reactions were just so pessimistic and upsetting and depressing, but almost all of the dialogue has been more like, “This is so stupid.” So that’s been a really positive and nice thing to see — like, this is a really unpopular, stupid point of view to have, and it’s kind of nice that people are all on board about how dumb this has been. And it’s good that a lot of people have tried to change the focus from what he said in the clip to my reaction or the actual story. That’s at least been the best part for me: less attention for him, more attention for Divest, and making light of this whole ridiculous situation. It’s been a weirdly feel-good story.

You came home for Thanksgiving break to see your dad watching Fox News. Does he know about… all this?
No, I don’t think he did! Really hoping he never ever finds out lmao.