Breaking: Professor Laura Mullen resigns

Mullen received harsh criticism and threats after a controversial post about the Israel-Hamas War
Professor Laura Mullen has been Kenan Chair in the Humanities since 2021.
Professor Laura Mullen has been Kenan Chair in the Humanities since 2021.
Evan Harris

Read the Old Gold & Black’s initial reporting here.

Kenan Chair of the Humanities Laura Mullen says she has resigned from her position as Kenan Chair in the Humanities at Wake Forest for personal reasons.

Mullen also announced her resignation to her poetry workshop class on Tuesday afternoon, saying that she would continue teaching her Fall 2023 classes but would not be returning in the spring, according to two students in the poetry workshop class. The Old Gold & Black has granted those students’ request for anonymity due to the threats Mullen has faced and the danger those threats could present to Mullen’s classes and the students in them. Mullen is also teaching a graduate-level Studies in Modern Poetry course this semester.

According to an English Department course plan obtained by the Old Gold & Black in September, Mullen was slated to teach Introduction to Creative Writing (CRW 100) and a topics course in creative writing (CRW 300). Professor Eric Ekstrand is now scheduled to teach CRW 100 in Spring 2024, according to Wake Forest’s course registration site, Banner. There is currently not a section of CRW 300 listed on the registration page for Spring 2024.

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Dean of the College Dr. Jackie Krasas and Chair of the English Department Dr. Jefferson Holdridge did not respond to the Old Gold & Black’s requests for an interview at the time of publication. The co-directors of the Creative Writing Program, Dr. Joanna Ruocco and Prof. Amy Catanzano, also did not respond to the Old Gold & Black’s request for an interview. Wake Forest’s Human Resources department also did not respond to the Old Gold & Black’s request for information. Dr. Dean Franco, director of Wake Forest’s Humanities Institute, declined to comment. 

One student in Mullen’s class told the Old Gold & Black they were saddened by Mullen’s resignation.

“She has a singular talent for highlighting the qualities that make a student’s work unique and for offering advice which strengthens that quality,” the student said. “She has taken on such a special role for me as a mentor in creative writing. I have never experienced a professor so willing to devote time and creative thought to her students’ work and am incredibly grateful to have been able to experience that.”

Post sparks backlash, threats

Mullen, who taught courses in the Creative Writing program since Spring 2022, did not elaborate on her reasons for leaving, but over the past two weeks, she has received intense criticism and threats to her personal safety following a post she published to her personal X account on Oct. 12. 

The post, which was deleted on Oct. 19, read: “So it’s kind of a Duh but if you turn me out of my house plow my olive grove and confine what’s left of my family to the small impoverished state you run as an open air prison I could be tempted to shoot up your dance party yeah even knowing you will scorch the earth.”

Reactions to Mullen’s post varied. Many, including Wake Forest students and alumni, criticized Mullen’s post as justifying attacks perpetrated by Hamas — a Palestinian militant group — against Israel on Oct. 7. Multiple people on social media and in the Wake Forest community called for Mullen to be fired. Mullen told the Old Gold & Black on Oct. 20 that “the post did not condone violence” but was an attempt to imagine and understand how the violence came about. (Editor’s Note: The Old Gold & Black follows AP Style guidance, which is to refer to Hamas as a militant group).

As the Old Gold & Black reported last week, Rubin Presidential Chair of Jewish History Dr. Barry Trachtenberg said that while he believed Mullen’s tone was too flippant, he read the post as explaining, not justifying Hamas’ attacks. The student in Mullen’s class echoed Trachtenberg’s sentiments, saying that the post was likely misconstrued due to Mullen’s “facetious word choice and flippant tone.” 

On Oct. 17, Wake Forest President Susan Wente and Provost Michele Gillespie released a statement on behalf of the university, saying that while Mullen had a right to free speech, they “do not condone or support” the views expressed in Mullen’s post. Mullen said that in addition to criticism, she had received numerous threats to her personal safety. Mullen said the threats intensified after the university released its statement. 

Mullen also said she received letters from parents and a Jewish student offering support — the Old Gold & Black reviewed the letter from the student, which was unsigned and has since confirmed its authorship.

This is a breaking story, and the Old Gold & Black will continue updating this piece as more information becomes available. This story is also part of the Old Gold & Black’s ongoing coverage of the Israel-Hamas War and its impact on campus. All articles — in news and opinion — on the Israel-Hamas War are available here.

Update Nov. 1, 2023 at 11:01 a.m.: This story was updated to reflect that the Old Gold & Black has confirmed the identity of the unsigned letter to Mullen.

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  • L

    LoriNov 24, 2023 at 5:10 pm

    Hamas is a terrorist group, not just a militant group.

  • R

    Robert TowneNov 21, 2023 at 6:32 pm

    As a WFU graduate and huge supporter of the university I am concerned that the University continues to employ liberal progressive professors who knowingly indoctrinate their students.
    This is not the WFU that I attended, nor the University that I will continue to support.

  • S

    ShesheNov 21, 2023 at 11:43 am

    These are the people teaching our youth. This is why our society is doomed.
    As an independent paper why are you using AP guidelines ?

  • S

    SandyNov 20, 2023 at 9:56 pm

    She is justifying terrorist atrocities– beheadings, rapes, mass murder and torture, plain and simple. A professor in the humanities is justifying the slaughter of innocents. It’s horrifying and scary that this is the state of our humanities and that Israelis somehow don’t figure into being part of our shared humanity. She is one scary dangerous person and is a bad influence on young minds. Good thing she resigned.

  • P

    Poets everywhereNov 17, 2023 at 8:11 am

    Fascist university caters to students & their parents feeling “unsafe”- i.e. not supporting their ideologies -about free speech by attacking a poet teaching you can control everyone if you have enough money and power.

  • B

    BorisNov 9, 2023 at 11:25 pm

    She openly justified HAMAS atrocities. No doubt. If one still has a doubt, take English ESL class. Next, HAMAS is not a militant group. It is a terrorist organization.

  • E

    EDNov 9, 2023 at 11:18 am

    Pointing out that this publication refers to Hamas as a “militant group.” They are a terrorist group and should be reported as such.

    • D

      Don FreedmanNov 10, 2023 at 11:40 am

      I can’t believe I overlooked that. Thank you for posting. BALL IS IN YOUR COURT, OLD GOLD & BLACK – GONNA CHANGE IT?

  • S

    steve EasterNov 8, 2023 at 5:35 am

    Well, she is showing her creative writing skills in her opinion on X… perhaps she should have taken a history class on the Mid East and how they got there.

  • S

    SigNov 2, 2023 at 10:51 pm

    You don’t have to study middle east history to know what Crimes against Humanity are…
    What she said sure did sound like a excuse for terrorism…

  • A

    AnonymousNov 2, 2023 at 7:40 am

    The article states that the Old Gold and Black reviewed the letter of support for Mullen. Did the Old Gold and Black review the threats Mullen also claimed to receive? If she received threats to her safety, did she contact the police and present evidence to them? Or are you just taking her at her word?

    • D

      DonNov 2, 2023 at 1:23 pm

      GREAT point.

  • A

    AnonymousNov 1, 2023 at 8:51 pm

    I do believe Laura Mullen had a point. Not the best way of delivering the message, but she isn’t wrong.
    What’s most shocking is her resignation. She has the right to express herself, and even if it is a controversial opinion, this could have been the space for discussion and debate. I thought this is what universities were for… WFU should have taken a stronger stance to protect her against threats.

    • D

      DonNov 2, 2023 at 1:28 pm

      She has the right to express herself, and Wake has the right to kick her the F out. She says she might be “…tempted to shoot up your dance party.” Would your position change had she stated that she might also be tempted to tie up and burn babies, video it and post it for she and her cohorts to see?

    • W

      W KirbyNov 21, 2023 at 11:43 pm

      Gag me with a spoon. Infantile response to an infantile response. She isn’t wrong? She is dean of the “humanities” at a school that once touted its goal as “pro humanitate” — what a sick joke. Dear old Wake Forest nauseates me now.

  • A

    AnonymousNov 1, 2023 at 10:05 am

    As a Jewish person, I was disappointed and hurt by Laura Mullen’s post. I didn’t agree with what she said or how she said it, including her later defenses. But I don’t agree at all with this outcome. I think her comments can be put into perspective and addressed appropriately with listening and dialogue. This is all out of proportion and not fair if you ask me–not fair to Mullen, the school, or the larger Wake community.

    • A

      AnonNov 9, 2023 at 12:15 pm

      You’re not Jewish. No justification for terrorist brutality

  • N

    Nena VillamarOct 31, 2023 at 11:59 pm

    How can “I could be tempted to shoot up your dance party” be construed to mean anything other than justifying the atrocities committed by Hamas, a recognized terrorist group whose charter explicitly calls for complete annihilation of Jewish people? I hope this professor will use her upcoming time of unemployment to delve more deeply into the history of Hamas and how it is solely responsible for the dismal, bleak, and squalid conditions civilian Palestinians face so she is better informed. Our children need professors who will educate, not indoctrinate, them.

    • A

      AnonymousNov 2, 2023 at 5:53 pm

      OP-ED from the Times of Israel:
      For years, Netanyahu propped up Hamas. Now it’s blown up in our faces
      The premier’s policy of treating the terror group as a partner, at the expense of Abbas and Palestinian statehood, has resulted in wounds that will take Israel years to heal from…

      Do the basic reading.

      • M

        Mr. DonNov 3, 2023 at 10:18 am

        And your thoughts about the professor’s comment?