Receiving “fan” mail as an opinion writer

Pallas Gutierrez, Opinion Editor

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At the end of every Opinion piece published by The Daily is a little note about the writer. The second line says, “They can be contacted at,” followed by the writer’s email. When I first started writing for Opinion, I thought I would be contacted very rarely and only about divisive topics. Even in that case, I expected people would send in Letters to the Editor and put their perspective into the public discourse.

On average, I receive four reader emails per quarter, not including a random mailing list I was added to without my permission and cannot remove myself from, a physical letter I received at The Daily’s office, and comments on Facebook, Twitter and The Daily’s website.

I know that some of my article topics are controversial. My first piece as an op-ed contributor was my viewpoint on the usage of the word “Latinx,” which has been hotly contested and debated in academic, activist and everyday circles. I have also written about boycotting Chick-fil-A and the role of allies at pride celebrations. Some of these divisive articles sparked enough emotions in readers that they wrote to me.

The second piece in my column series “50 Years of Queer Anger” detailed challenges facing the queer community in 2019. In response, I received an almost incoherent email that seemed to argue that queer people should not be integrated into society because they label themselves as outsiders. In response to my column about anti-blackness in the queer community and  Andrea Bian’s column about believing survivors, we both received an email from an alumnus about how Medill was failing us by not effectively teaching journalistic law and ethics. (I am not a Medill student.) Six days later, we received a follow-up about the author pulling donations to Northwestern.

I’ve also seen aggressive comments regarding less controversial pieces I’ve written. My final column as assistant editor was about being stuck between journalism and theatre, and a reader commented, “‘My true passion is theater. For a person who writes about male privilege (sic) constantly, there might not be a higher privilege (sic) than having someone else pay for you to get a $250,000 Northwestern degree in ‘pretend time.’ I don’t want to hear anymore (sic) of your crap.”

That comment hit harder than either of the emails I received. Whenever I wrote a column for “50 Years of Queer Anger,” I knew that some people would disagree with my points. I prepared myself for emails and comments. I was not prepared for a personal story about my major and extracurriculars to lead to such vitriol. I was also shaken that his takeaway from my pieces was male privilege, which was certainly not my attempt with “50 Years.”

I joke with my friends quite a bit about these emails and comments. But when I think about them for a while, I start considering the images people who respond to my pieces have of me. My writing is the only thing they know about me. There’s nothing I can do about that, but it can get overwhelming to have people criticize me based on 600 words I wrote about an issue I care about.

I have received nicer emails, too. Last December, a recently accepted theatre major emailed me in response to my piece about being a theatre major at a highly ranked university. She expressed excitement that the reasons she had applied were the same things I loved about being here, and apologized for the “weird sappy email,” but it touched me.

I save every email I’ve received as a Daily columnist. Sometimes they give me ideas for new pieces, sometimes they center me when I’m wondering about the point of Opinion, and some of them are just funny. It’s a sign to me that people are reading my articles and that they’re engaged with the content in some way, and that’s the least I can ask for.

Pallas Gutierrez is a Communication sophomore. They can be contacted at pallas2022@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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