Earlier this month, students on a range of email lists — including the freshman-year listserv for the entire Class of 2017 — received a series of emails from College senior Ashley Stinnett and members of her art collective.
As a result of the email thread, Stinnett, who is also a Daily Pennsylvanian Opinion columnist, and several other students sent more than 60 emails to the inboxes of close to 2,400 people. Others who received “spam” email messages from Stinnett include: over 30 people on the 34th Street magazine staff, people on the Hub listserv at the Kelly Writers House and students who took Advanced Nonfiction Writing with instructor Buzz Bissinger in fall 2015.
Stinnett is currently enrolled in two of the most unorthodox classes at Penn: , known colloquially as the “monk class,” and ”.”
Presumably, Stinnett launched this series of “email experiments” as part of “Wasting Time on the Internet,” in which students are asked to conduct social experiments to find ways that can make wasting time on the Internet a communal rather than solitary activity. However, Stinnett’s precise intentions are difficult to confirm because she has just entered a month of asceticism as part of her “monk class” and was unable to speak to the DP for this article. She has pre-written her columns for the DP, which are sent to the opinion editor by her friends. As of last Oct. 21 , Stinnett has had to observe a code of silence and avoid all electronic communication, among other rules.
In response to a request for comment sent to Stinnett’s School of Arts and Sciences email, a group of her unidentified friends, some of whom asked to be referred to as the “Bad Monk Ashley” collective, said they were manning her account for the time being and responded with an emailed statement.
Her friends think her “email experiment” began when she mistakenly crafted an application for the Truman Scholarship available only to juniors. After realizing her mistake, Stinnett sent her application in anyway but with a note that explained her mistake and contained an appeal for other opportunities that might be suitable for her, the statement said. Following this, she forwarded the entire gaffe to more than 70 of her contacts, including her former professors.
Stinnett’s friends said that this was done as an experiment for “Wasting Time on the Internet,” but “also for giving people a good laugh at [Stinnett’s] mistakes.”
“Knowing her personally, she dislikes a holier-than-thou attitude and she also often complains of this complex often at Penn,” her friends wrote in the email.
At the same time that Stinnett was forwarding her gaffe to contacts, her account was also sending messages to different listservs. Her classmates in “Wasting Time on the Internet” discussed responses to these “listserv spams” as Stinnett received them.
Some recipients to Stinnett’s messages asked to be taken off the listserv. Others stated their displeasure at being drawn into her “email experiment.” One College senior, who received messages because he is part of the Hub listserv wrote, “This whole charade is the most narcissistic thing I’ve ever seen happen at Penn. Since when is ‘experimentation’ an excuse to impose oneself over another?”
Stinnett’s friends said that they do not think her emails qualify as spam. They said that every time Stinnett starts a message thread to a listserv, she includes instructions on how to mark emails as spam for those who might be getting annoyed.
There were also recipients who responded to Stinnett’s emails positively. College senior Hannah Judd shared her own reflections on listservs and encouraged Stinnett to “interrogate ... The idea that a listserv links people without their consent and predisposes them to viewing certain messages or images, which they then are forced to filter through.”
Following this first “spamming” of email listservs, Stinnett’s account sent out a statement to the Hub listserv acknowledging that recipients were “legitimate” in reacting to her emails with both displeasure and joy, and that in hindsight, she should have asked for consent before including recipients in her experiment. The email added however, that “the discourse this is generating around consent/listservs/etc is actually quite generative, so I can’t say that I really regret my actions.”
After this was sent out, Stinnett’s account asked individuals if they wanted to be added to a listserv for “spicy memes” which the account set up and ran with the pseudonym “Bad Monk Ashley.” Again, Stinnett’s account received responses ranging the critical gamut: The younger brother of Stinnett’s high school friend responded, “Sure lol / Love a good spicy meme”; a person that Stinnett’s account described as a “very busy chair of a theatre group” replied, “No please--I get super anxious about unread emaivls.”
Eighty-nine people were on this listserv as of Oct. 21. During Stinnett’s “vow of silence,” a group of students known as “puresexington” is running the email listserv on her behalf.
Before Stinnett went offline, she sent an email to this listserv that said,“What a strange and wonderful way to be connected.”
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