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Students Are Abusing An Author After Her Poem Was Included In An Exam

Australian high school students are using a Facebook group of nearly 70,000 to share abusive and angry memes after an Indigenous Australian poet's work was included in their English exam.

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Australian students are abusing an award-winning writer after her poem was included in a high school graduation exam.

@EllenvanNeerven God I hated your mango poem, worst unseen HSC text in history #sorrynotsorry

Ellen van Neerven's Mango is one of many poems that feature in her latest collection Comfort Food. Earlier this year, the book was shortlisted for the 2017 NSW Premier's Literary Awards.

On Monday morning Australian students opened their English Paper 1 for this year's Higher School Certificate to find Mango was included as a text to analyse for the course's theme of "discovery."

Dozens of students took to social media after finishing their Year 12 English exam to both criticise the author and ask her what the poem meant.

Dear @EllenvanNeerven, What is the meaning behind your poem, "Mango", and how does it link to the ideas/concepts of discovery?

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Open Facebook groups dedicated to discussing the Higher School Certificate are littered with memes, abuse, questions and arguments aimed at the poem and van Neerven. One group has almost 70,000 members.


Year 12 students are posting racist memes about Indigenous poet Ellen Van Neerven on FB after her poem was in this… https://t.co/0auHqyC5L5

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One student even went so far as to record a rap (or diss track) taking jabs at van Neerven.

Video from HSC students with "diss track" aimed at Ellen van Neervan & her poem, "mango": "Ellen can catch a clip f… https://t.co/DnwWYu0BQv

The lyrics to the 60-second track include "Ellen, can catch a clip full, from a pistol" and "Bitch if I ever see Ellen, beest [sic] believe she isn't safe cuz I'm throwing these mangoes straight at her face".

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And others are messaging van Neerven directly.

High school kids are sending abusive Facebook messages to the poet Ellen van Neerven because one of her poems was u… https://t.co/mFnuQYHY2z

As the abuse rolled into an increasingly large wave on Monday night, Australian authors and poets took to Twitter to defend van Neerven.

Lots of HSC/Year 12 students studying authors' work are abusing those authors online. Teachers/parents, please tell kids this ain't cricket.

Hey @NSWEducation, poet Ellen van Neervan is being abused online by students because one of her poems is in the HSC. Please investigate this

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.

Kid asked me yesterday: how is it my business? It's my business because @EllenvanNeerven is a real person & she's my friend & a great poet.

While others, such as Fulbright scholar at Harvard Law Alison Whittaker, indicated that the abuse was a result of failings in the HSC. "Its very design makes responding to (& making) poetry a farce," she tweeted.

Ellen van Neerven is a genius, a capacity-builder & a pillar of literature. She doesn't deserve this fury. That's owed to policy-makers.

Award-winning First Nations author Melissa Lucashenko told BuzzFeed News this is not the first time an Aboriginal writer has been abused.

She said the comments directed at van Neerven was evidence of an “intellectual laziness” that began at the top with the nation’s leaders.

“I’m not at all surprised at these children who think and act in this way, because we’ve got an attorney-general who has explicitly given the green light to this," Lucashenko said. "He’s said people have the right to be bigots."

On Tuesday morning students woke to multiple media outlets covering their reaction to the poem. "We didn't know she was Abo," said one in a Facebook group.

Another student defended a meme that identified van Neerven as a chimp.

"People have misunderstood the chimp image as it was meant to represent the author having the identical knowledge of a chimp when writing the poem, but of course people gotta play the victim in her part and interpret it as being racist," they wrote.

Much of the abuse directed towards van Neerven has been deleted since media coverage began.

Authors are not advised in advance if their work is included in the HSC due to issues with confidentiality of the exam.

Brad Esposito is a news reporter for BuzzFeed and is based in Sydney, Australia.

Contact Brad Esposito at bradley.esposito@buzzfeed.com.

Amy McQuire is an Indigenous Affairs Reporter for BuzzFeed and is based in Queensland, Australia.

Contact Amy McQuire at amy.mcquire@buzzfeed.com.

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