• 37°

Josh Bergeron: Public square extends to digital world, too

Would you shout it on the Square in downtown Salisbury?

The popularity of social media and that it allows people to create their own echo chambers has encouraged an indulgence in language that treats people with differing viewpoints and life experiences as less than human. “Likes” and reactions, in particular, create the permission structure for this sort of language when it would be completely unacceptable during an in-person encounter.

It’s particularly unfortunate when people in positions of influence use language that demeans and degrades others and make no effort to have an honest discussion about differences.

Last week, several readers contacted the Salisbury Post about a widely shared Facebook post that did exactly that — checking all the boxes for pushing rhetoric too far.

In the social media post, an unnamed woman was stereotyped for her hair color, skin color and weight as well as for the fact that she was open carrying what appeared to be a pistol, apparently supported President Donald Trump and was a reportedly a cigarette-smoker. There were several perceived characteristics, too, like being annoying, “country,” privileged, “small-minded” and uneducated.

“Will these freaks crawl back under their rocks when Trump loses so we can be spared having to deal with them?” the post stated, appearing to judge a book by its cover.

The post was made by Seth Holtzman, a Salisbury resident. His apparent affiliation with Catawba College was most troublesome to readers who contacted the Post.

“It’s not acceptable for someone to say these sorts of things when their job is to teach our children,” wrote one reader.

“Please ask Catawba College whether they agree with this sort of statement,” wrote another.

Last week, the school’s website identified Holtzman as the chair of the Religion and Philosophy Department. By Saturday, after hearing from the public about the topic, the school altered the staff list for the department to place a “retiring faculty” header above a brief biography that was also updated. Senior Vice President Jared Tice said Holtzman is a Catawba College faculty member who’s officially retiring at the end of December. The college said Holtzman is “a non-teaching faculty member who has no Catawba-sponsored interaction with students.”

“He has not taught a course at Catawba this calendar year,” Tice said in response to a Post request.

The school’s statement also said, “The views expressed do not align with Catawba’s Mission and Values, which seek to unite a diverse population of students, faculty, and staff.”

I didn’t approach this column with the intent to shame a private citizen. Sometimes, the role of a newspaper is to dispel rumors about local topics and, as our weekly Ask Us feature shows, answer reader questions. So, before I heard from Tice, I sent Holtzman messages asking to confirm the authenticity of the post of which I had only seen screenshots. At the time, as the school’s website indicated, it appeared he was a department head — a position of authority in which statements like Holtzman’s carry more weight.

Holtzman was quick to respond to my message, calling within two minutes. He confirmed the authenticity of the post and said he had removed it. I asked him whether his language is an example of a deepening political and social divide in America and whether it was OK to make assumptions about someone he’d never met besides an unpleasant coffee shop experience. Holtzman said he didn’t want to speak specifically about the post he made because of the threat of a lawsuit, but defiantly told me that he had “evidence” to back up the descriptions he espoused. He said the Republican Party has demonized the other side for years and that “some of us have had enough” in addition to some other things I won’t repeat in this space.

The unfortunate reality is that Holtzman is far from alone. Too many people view their fellow Americans with differing viewpoints as evil, and that can’t continue if the country, state and community hope to heal divides that have grown wider. The public square is no longer just a physical space; it’s a digital one, too.

If you wouldn’t shout statements like Holtzman’s on the Square in downtown Salisbury, it’s best to abstain entirely.

If you would, it’s best to reevaluate and choose a more amicable way to discuss differences.

Josh Bergeron is editor of the Salisbury Post.



Dr. Fauci, Kanye West, Jesus Christ among presidential write-in candidates in Rowan County


Blotter: Salisbury man charged faces marijuana charge after being served with unrelated warrant


Local health officials see record testing numbers ahead of Thanksgiving


State Board of Elections certifies results of 2020 election


Small business owners seek lifeline in new grant program offered by Rowan County


Blotter: Sheriff’s Office investigating arson at storage unit housing Royce Apparel Inc. merchandise


Sheriff’s Office looking for white pickup caught vandalizing schools, church


Salisbury city manager tests positive for COVID-19


Home sweet home: Families never tire of decorating Rowan Museum gingerbread houses


Former Salisbury High teacher faces additional sex offense charges


RSS planning drive-thru send-off for superintendent


Highway Patrol: Fatal I-85 crash occurred when one vehicle stopped in roadway


10 more counties found with ‘critical’ spread as Gov. Cooper tightens mask-wearing restrictions


Police: Several weekend overdoses possibly result of ‘bad batch’ of drugs


Davie County Social Services employee faces assault, child abuse charges


Political Notebook: State survey shows majority of voters confident in election process


Logistics, instructions for ‘Tis the Season Spectacular parade

Ask Us

Ask Us: How can people stop unwanted telemarketers, robocalls?


One reported dead after fiery interstate crash


Salisbury’s $35 million in water, wastewater upgrades on track for completion in 2022


Blotter: Man charged with stealing $600 in pallets, 10 boxes of clothing


North Carolina shooting suspect caught after days on the run


Charleston weighs wall as seas rise and storms strengthen


Candy Cane Train makes maiden voyage at Transportation Museum, lights show follows