A match on Tinder, a #MeToo moment

Taylor Allison, 25, a funeral director from Indiana, Pa. Photo taken from Facebook, posted Nov. 18, 2017.

A Civic Project story

By Paige Johnson, Terra Neary and Angie Prencipe

INDIANA — On Feb. 10, Taylor Allison, 25, a licensed funeral director in Indiana, tweeted screenshots of a series of messages from an Indiana University of Pennsylvania fraternity member. His messages insulted her weight, appearance and intelligence.

He called her a “cow,” a “heffer” (sic) and said she was “not only fat and ugly, but also a dumbass,” according to the screenshots supplied by Allison on her Twitter account.

The screenshots went viral on Twitter and gained more than 40,000 retweets within 24 hours. Hundreds replied, some supporting Allison, others supporting the frat member, IUP history major Steven M. Pedersen. He had messaged Allison on the dating app Tinder after the app indicated they were a match — they were interested in each other.

Allison later changed her Twitter username and made her account private. She was messaged on Twitter via direct message and responded April 24, but she declined comment on the incident.

Screenshots of the Feb. 10 Tinder exchange between Taylor Allison and Steven Pedersen. Screenshots were Tweeted by Allison. Click to enlarge.

Pedersen was asked to respond on Facebook and Twitter Feb. 20. He responded to the messages but declined comment on March 29.

Phi Sigma Kappa, Pedersen’s fraternity, responded to Allison’s tweet and said the matter was “being handled internally.” The fraternity’s Twitter account has been deactivated.

“No comment on the situation,” said Phi Sigma Kappa in a March 22 Instagram message. The fraternity’s Instagram account is private.

The university’s Greek Life office was contacted by email May 14 for a reaction. A reply came May 15 from university spokeswoman Michelle S. Fryling, who wrote, “I can confirm that the fraternity did address this issue internally.” She did not elaborate.

IUP history major Steven M. Pederson. Photo posted April 2, 2017, on Facebook.

Emails seeking reaction were sent to The Haven Project, IUP’s resource center for harassment, and The Alice Paul House, a domestic violence center. They did not respond.

IUP’s Counseling Center responded to an emailed request for comment on harassment and bullying at IUP. David Myers said the center could not comment without approval from Fryling.


SOCIAL MEDIA HAVE CHANGED the way people view dating. In 2017, nearly 40 percent of Americans were using dating apps.

In a March 2017 online survey conducted by student loan website LendEDU, 71 percent of college students reported using Tinder. Among college-age Tinder users, 34 percent said they use the dating app for entertainment but not for serious dating.

In another March 2017 study, nearly 50 percent of dating app users reported being harassed. A third of those users were female.

A March 2016, survey reported 57 percent of women said they felt harassed when using dating apps. Only 21 percent of men said they felt harassed.


IUP STUDENTS RESPONDED similarly in a spring 2018 survey of 96 undergraduate students. (See sidebar, below).

 When asked about dating apps, 72 percent of IUP students said they use them; 72 percent said they use Tinder.

 When asked why they use dating apps, 28 percent said they were looking for a relationship; 15 percent said they were looking for casual sex.

 76 percent said they have not felt harassed on dating apps.

 the 24 percent who said they have felt harassed also said they were harassed after refusing to have sex with someone on a dating app.

“Men on dating apps get very angry or irritated when you deny them sex or any contact,” said one anonymous respondent. “They become hostile, and I’ve been harassed and stalked by a guy I wouldn’t respond to before.”

Other respondents said rejecting or ignoring someone led to harassment.

“It’s really alarming how many guys just won’t accept the rejection,” said another anonymous respondent. “A lot of the guys that you don’t even match with or don’t reply back to will either continuously message me or find my social media accounts and continuously message me on there. Why would I ever want to go out with a guy that can’t take a no for an answer over a screen? Who knows what they’re be like in real life.”

One respondent said she has received compliments on a dating app,

“Usually it is creepy/derogatory, never just a nice compliment,” she wrote.

Another respondent, a male, said he comments on someone’s appearance on dating apps, but only “when they aren’t good looking.”


IT IS EASIER to make harassing comments when you can’t see or hear the person you are addresing, according to Christian Vaccaro, a sociology professor at IUP with expertise in media and gender issues.

IUP sociology professor Christian Vaccaro, April 16, 2018. Photo by Terra Neary.

“It’s hard to walk up to a person, look them in the eyes and call them the things this gentleman called this woman,” Vaccaro said in an April 16 interview in his College of Humanities and Social Sciences office. “It’s easy when you’re sending an anonymous message and there’s a degree of separation.”

Vaccaro said dating apps and social media have led to increased harassment online, particularly of women.

“Women have traditionally been harassed online far more than men,” he said. “Our online environment is going to be reflective of our more general environment.”

He said women are more likely to face harsh criticism or backlash when they state an opinion or try to defend themselves online, which is what happened to Allison.

Vaccaro said this incident is an example of the way U.S. society is structured against women.

“Here is a young woman who is standing up for herself, and for standing up for herself, she receives this huge amount of backlash,” Vaccaro said. “It’s almost as if people are saying, ‘Who are you to think that you deserve to be treated better by a random stranger online? How dare you?’”


MOST IUP SURVEY respondents said they have never felt harassed on a dating app. But women said it was common for men to be rude to them if they did not respond.

IUP sociology student Elissa C. Nolte, posted on Instagram, Nov. 22, 2017.

“Guys will routinely call girls sexist and vulgar names on Tinder,” respondent Elissa C. Nolte, IUP sociology major, wrote on Instagram on April 26. “It’s so common that girls don’t even think it’s a big deal.”

Nolte said when she would reject men on a dating app, they would respond by calling her “a bitch or a whore.”

“Some guys feel entitled to my interest just because we matched and get really angry and aggressive when you don’t respond,” wrote Nolte in the April 26 Instagram exchange. “Every girl I know has had something similar happen to them, but it’s so common that they just brush it off. Nobody talks about how wrong it is that guys talk to girls this way.”

Paige Johnson, senior journalism and public relations major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is from Indiana, Pa. She can be contacted panjo96@gmail.com.

Terra Neary, a junior journalism and public relations major, is from Pittsburgh. She can be contacted at pvlw@iup.edu.

Angie Prencipe, a senior English and journalism double major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is from Ridgway, Pa. She can be contacted at A.V.Prencipe@iup.edu


Sidebar: #MeToo epilog

INDIANA — Following is a screenshot of a statement tweeted by Indiana funeral director Taylor Allison on Feb. 12, two days after her tweeted screenshots of an exchange with IUP student Steven Pedersen went viral. (Click to enlarge.)



Sidebar: Dating app survey, responses

INDIANA — On April 11, an eight-question survey about Indiana University of Pennsylvania students’ use of dating apps was posted on the reporters’ public Twitter accounts. The Tweets were shared by Twitter accounts @CrushesofIUP, @HerCampusIUP, @AsSeenAtIUP, @IUPpolisci, @IUPWomenGender and others. The anonymous survey was open April 11-26. It was created using SurveyMonkey. LINK: https://www.surveymonkey.com/

A total of 96 people responded. Not all respondents answered all eight questions. Respondents were allowed to select multiple answers for some questions. The survey was shared on public Twitter accounts; therefore, not all respondents are necessarily IUP students.

The survey questions and response data begin here:

The following questions address IUP students’ use of dating apps. Angie Prencipe, Paige Johnson and Terra Neary, journalism majors at IUP, are conducting the survey for IUP journalism professor David Loomis’ [doloomis@iup.edu] News Reporting class.

Aggregated responses collected from this survey may be published in the award-winning online newspaper The HawkEye. The identities of participants will be anonymous. However, if you would be willing to be interviewed by the reporters, leave your contact information, including your name, IUP e-mail and mobile phone number, in the space provided after the last question of the survey.

1. Gender
Male: 27
Female: 69
Other: 0

2. Age
18-20: 45
21-23: 40
23-25: 10
Other: 1

3. Do you use dating apps? If so, which one(s)?
(Respondents were allowed to select multiple answers)
Tinder: 69
Bumble: 20
Grindr: 5
Other: 4
None: 27

4. How frequently do you use dating apps?
Daily: 15
Weekly: 28
Monthly: 6
Rarely: 22
Never: 25

5. Why do you use dating apps?
Looking for a relationship: 27
Looking for hookups: 15
Looking for fun: 20
None of the above: 34

6. Have you ever commented about another person’s appearance on a dating app?
Yes: 39
No: 53
Four respondents did not answer this question.
Respondents were asked to elaborate if they answered yes. 25 of 39 responded.

7. Has anybody ever commented on your appearance on a dating app?
(95 of 96 respondents answered this question)
Yes: 38
No: 55
One respondent did not answer this question.
Respondents were asked to elaborate if they answered yes. 26 of 38 responded.

8. Have you ever felt harassed or threatened by another person on a dating app?
Yes: 23
No: 73
Respondents were asked to elaborate if they answered yes. Nine of 23 responded.
If you would be willing to be interviewed by a reporter, please provide your name, email and/or phone number:


Sidebar: Why we reported this story

In 2015, Poynter.org ethicist Kelly McBride wrote a column advising journalists how to report stories about public shaming – in which someone is openly humiliated as punishment for a certain behavior.

An example McBride cited was Justine Sacco, a woman who in 2014 tweeted, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” She sent the message to 170 Twitter followers before catching a flight out of London. When she landed in Cape Town 11 hours later, she discovered “the Internet hated her, her extended family was humiliated and she’d been fired,” McBride wrote.

McBride argued that shaming Sacco was ethically questionable. Sacco was a private figure, not a prominent, public or powerful one. She was an individual, not a corporation or government agency. The shaming involved a single incident, not a pattern of behavior.

Why, then, is The HawkEye reporting the story of Indiana University of Pennsylvania undergraduate student Steven M. Pedersen and his documented social-media abuse of Indiana funeral director Taylor Allison?


On Oct. 15, 2017, two and a half years after the McBride column ran, actress Alyssa Milano urged use of the hashtag #MeToo to raise awareness.

“If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem,” Milano tweeted.

Her spark spread in a flash. By December 2017, TIME magazine had put “The Silence Breakers” on its cover as its person of the year.

The ubiquity of the problem, as Milano suggested, is reflected in the comments of Ms. Allison in her recounting of allegations from other women about an alleged pattern of behavior exhibited by Mr. Pedersen, and others.

The #MeToo movement has shown how relationships between men and women can be flipped – in the Allison-Pedersen case by turning the instrument of bullying into an instrument of bravery and balance. And by throwing light on patterns of behavior — by individuals and by institutions they inhabit.

— David Loomis, editor


Sidebar: For more information or to get involved

For more information about this story or to get engaged in the issues addressed, contact the following sources:

The Haven Project
Center for Health and Well-Being
Susan Graham
Sexual Violence Prevention Educator
G2 Suites on Maple East
901 Maple Street
Indiana, PA 15705
Phone: 724-357-3947
Fax: 724-357-3434
Email: haven-project@iup.edu

The Alice Paul House
Whitney Carmichael
Community Resource Coordinator
Indiana Pa, 15701
Phone: (724) 349-4444
Email: Info@alicepaulhouse.org

Health Service
Center for Health and Well-Being
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Suites on Maple East
901 Maple Street
Indiana, PA 15705
Phone: 724-357-2550
Administration: 724-357-6475
Fax: 724-357-6212
Email: health-inquiry@iup.edu

The Counseling Center
David Myers
Psychologist, outreach coordinator
Suites on Maple East
Room G31
901 Maple Street
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Indiana, PA. 15705
Phone: 724 357-2621
Email: dmyers@iup.edu

Michelle S. Fryling
Executive director
Communications and Media Relations
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
314 Sutton Hall
1011 South Drive
Indiana, PA 15705
Phone: 724-357-3062
Email: Michelle.Fryling@iup.edu

Office of Greek Life and Student Engagement
Elizabeth E. Sarneso
Assistant director
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
307 Pratt Hall,
201 Pratt Drive
Indiana, PA 15705
Phone: 724-357-2598
Email: esarneso@iup.edu

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Avenue S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20201
Web: https://www.stopbullying.gov/cyberbullying/what-is-it/index.html

Be Best
First Lady Melania Trump’s Initiative
Web: https://www.whitehouse.gov/bebest/

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