In between presidents: Kathy Murray v. Sarah Bolton


Illustration by Astrid Ketcham.

Here’s the truth: I am deeply saddened to see Kathy Murray leave Whitman College. She brought me fame, a weensy fortune and a wealth of joy in my time as a humor writer and editor for The Wire

I’ve made Kathy the subject of many articles; I’ve sexualized her, kidnapped her and sent her on vacation all with the intent to make people giggle, laugh and think critically about the actions of the administration. 

Something about Kathy Murray just perfectly represents the irony of the Whitman experience. She’s an old gay woman from the Midwest with a degree in pedagogy and piano running a college in the middle of nowhere. I have no idea if she’s good at her job but she is a subject rife for comedic fodder.

Other humor writers have put her at the center of scandal after scandal in their stories. We use her if we need a silly character that everyone knows to pop into a scene, arrest someone, and then leave. She’s a figurehead, loved, hated, praised and  mocked—a quintessential girlboss icon of our time. But she’s also a very powerful person on this campus, and our critiques of her are often very valid.

Further than The Wire, Kathy Murray is used widely by the broader Whitman community as a meme or a source of Yik Yak inspiration, and it’s hard to know what the intention is behind these jokes. 

I’ve found myself thinking about why we collectively select Murray as an object of satire. We joke about other administrators but Murray is surely most often used. She is the president of Whitman, and that rightfully earns itself a certain degree of scrutiny. 

But what kind of scrutiny?

We use Murray in our writing in ways that feel vastly different than how we use male administrators like Peter Harvey, and it’s worth paying attention to. Punching up should be equally distributed. As we welcome the enigma Sarah Bolton with at least semi-open arms, I wonder how we’ll portray her. I wonder why certain other people *cough cough* Joe Davis and the Board of Trustees *cough cough * aren’t subject to the same level of criticism and mockery that Murray faces. 

As Sarah Bolton steps into office, I think it’s important to consider who we’re mocking and why, paying careful attention the line between actual purposeful criticism, and the being silly. There is room for both. 

Goodbye Kathy Murray. I wish you well in your life endeavors and I’m sorry I sexualized you on multiple occasions.

Source: Whitman Wire