Exams can be mentally, physically and emotionally draining for anyone, but when the pressure is piled high for your last year of school, those feelings only escalate.
After emerging from the Higher School Certificate (HSC) English exam on Monday, students took to Twitter and other social media platforms to hurl abuse at Indigenous poet Ellen van Neerven.
The opening question on the exam paper asked students to “explain how the poet conveys the delight of discovery” in van Neerven’s “Mango”, from her book Comfort Food.
Whether they disliked the poem in general or simply couldn’t understand it, students began posting a barrage of insults about the other online, some of them contacting her directly with their abuse.
“In all honesty there wasn’t much to analyse cos it reads like a 4 year old wrote it,” [sic] one student wrote in HSC Discussion Group, a public Facebook group where HSC students compare notes and blow off steam after or before their exams.
One meme, created by a HSC student, depicted a monkey sitting at a typewriter with the caption “LEAKED IMAGE OF THE AUTHOR OF ‘MANGO'”.
Many authors are coming to van Neerven’s defence. Evelyn Araluen made several posts to Twitter about it, before she elected to make her account private.
“Huge amount of kids sending her [personal messages], [direct messages], tweets, emails, trying to illicit reactions for a [Facebook] meme group. You’re venting and I understand,” Araluen wrote.
“This isn’t about your meme, it’s about when children feel licence to drag authors into their exam angst. It’s not cute, it’s harassment.”
Michelle Law also defended van Neerven.
“The kids abusing Ellen van Neerven are being lazy, entitled and obtuse. It’s bloody gutting to think they’re about to enter the real world,” Law wrote.
The kids abusing Ellen van Neerven are being lazy, entitled and obtuse. It's bloody gutting to think they're about to enter the real world.
— Michelle Law ? (@ms_michellelaw) October 16, 2017
“If Ellen thought she was being harassed then she just simply shouldn’t be on the internet if she is going to play victim and act like a big baby about the situation,” one person wrote in response to Law’s comment.
As yet, van Neerven has not issued any statement about the flood of abuse or death threats she has allegedly received. Nor was the author aware that her poem would be included in the exam.
“The authors are not advised in advance,” a spokesperson for the New South Wales Education Standards Authority said, revealing that exam questions had been set by “a committee of experienced English teachers”.
Upon realising that their criticisms and memes had made headlines, students began venting about that in the HSC Discussion Group as well.
“Doesn’t look that aboriginal to me,” [sic] one student wrote.
“I bet the chick just wants compensation,” another commented.