College president accused of sexism after posing with male students raising money for charity

President Marcia Welsh posed with 10 members of the Hawthorn Hotties, male students who perform as exotic dancers who were raising money for the American Cancer Society.

East Stroudsburg University’s president is under attack from faculty after she tweeted a photo of herself with shirtless male students who were raising money for charity.

Faculty members have accused Welsh of sexism and questioned her commitment to eradicating campus sexual assault as well as giving “right-wing ammunition to run to every talk-radio station and fundamentalist church.”

Faculty at East Stroudsburg University are questioning whether the school is too cavalier about sexual assaults and has a double standard when it comes to gender after the university’s president tweeted a photo of herself with scantily clad male students who were raising money for charity.

Last week, President Marcia Welsh tweeted a photo herself with 10 shirtless students from her official account. The students are all part of the Hawthorn Hotties—an informal male student group that raises money for charity by performing as exotic dances and reenacting scenes from the popular film “Magic Mike.”

The Hawthorn Hotties were raising money for the American Cancer Society when the photo was taken.

The tweet irked many members of ESU’s faculty, who already have a strained relationship with the school’s administration. The faculty union blog, the Raging Chicken Press, blamed Welsh’s “itchy twitter [sic] finger” for what they call a public relations nightmare.

“Do you think a male university president who had even the tiniest sense of self-preservation would post a selfie of himself with a group of half-clad female students calling themselves the ‘premiere exotic dancing group’ on campus?” Kevin Mahoney, the author of the post, wrote.

“In an environment in which [Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education] PASSHE universities have seen gut wrenching cuts from a right-wing legislature hell-bent on breaking Pennsylvania’s public higher education system, you’d think the last thing you’d want to do as a university president is give the right-wing ammunition to run to every talk-radio station and fundamentalist church this side of the Delaware River to point to and say: ‘This is what your tax dollars are paying for!’” Mahoney continued.

ESU, a public institution, is one of the 14 state universities that compose the PASSHE.

Faculty members also equated the photo a lax view on campus sexual assault by the university, according to The Patriot-News.

"In this heightened era of appropriate sexual behavior on college campuses, faculty and administration cannot condone any kind of somewhat questionable behavior related to sexuality," Nancy VanArsdale, an English professor at ESU and president of the school’s Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF) chapter, told The Patriot-News.

According to ESU’s latest crime report, four forcible sex offenses were reported to have happened on-campus in 2013, up from two in 2012. Four were also reported in 2011 and two reported in 2010.

"Our campus community is inspired by students who put forth a tremendous effort to raise funds for causes that are close to their hearts,” Welsh said in a statement. “The students who refer to themselves as the 'Hawthorn Hotties' were raising money for the American Cancer Society. To exploit the support of our students is not only an insult to them but a malicious disservice to the good work they do for our university and the community."

The two ESU students who co-created the Hawthorn Hotties said they met Welsh at a residence hall while she was delivering cookies and asked for a photo without her having prior knowledge. The pair—John Alston, a sophomore, and Jon Madrak, a senior—said the faculty is blowing the photo out of proportion, according to The Patriot-News.

“There’s no promiscuous or sexual reference at all within the picture,” Alston said. “There’s really nothing to negatively take from that except for the fact that the guys have their shirts off.”

According to a poll on The Patriot-News, 75 percent of readers believe she was just “showing support for students raising money for a good cause.”

This isn’t the first time Welsh has been attacked by the faculty union blog for campus activities. In April, Welsh sent a campus-wide email that encouraged the ESU community to all meet and beat on drums in a “united celebration.” Welsh’s meeting was in reference to the Native Americans who settled in the area and would beat on drums in a form of unified communication.

“Let’s make a loud and joyous noise and raise a Warrior call to move forward into a new, bright and innovative future, together,” Welsh wrote in her email. “Call it a pep rally for our future, which is threatened, unless we can set aside old obstacles and claim ESU’s rightful future. We are wonderful people at an incredible institution, and nothing—no person, group or fiscal crisis—can hold us back.”

The Raging Chicken Press called the event “Welsh’s little mistake” and celebrated its low attendance.

According to former Student Senate President Justin Amann, the ire over the photo is a direct result of pre-existing tension between the faculty and the administration.

"I don't think that we're going to be having a conversation about this if the relationship on our campus were positive. No question about that," Amann said told The Patriot-News. "The faculty is in constant attack mode."

ESU did not respond to a request for comment from Campus Reform, but did tell The Patriot-News that there is no correlation between sexual assaults on campus and the photo.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @K_Schallhorn