Annabella Rockwell led a life of privilege even before she entered posh Mount Holyoke College in rural South Hadley, Mass. in 2011. The heiress to a pharmaceutical fortune, she grew up on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, summered in Newport, RI, and later moved with her family to Palm Beach, Fla.
A competitive figure skater who lived abroad for a time in Germany as well as Hong Kong, Rockwell chose Mount Holyoke for its academic rigor and prestige. At the time, she said, she’d grown up in a home with “traditional” values but considered herself open-minded.
“I was so excited about going to this renowned, respected school in Massachusetts,” she said. “I literally arrived there bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, I was just so happy.”
But she told The Post she wound up “totally indoctrinated” into viewing the world as a toxic patriarchy and herself as an oppressed victim — and eventually had to be deprogrammed.
Rockwell, now 29, said she was initially shocked by how aggressively anti-male the students and professors were when she settled in at the women-only school, founded in 1837. She was also taken aback by a serious drinking culture and freshman campus rituals that, she said, were designed to shrug off gender roles — such as cutting your hair into what is called the “MoHo chop.” (Rockwell did not do this.)
But it wasn’t until her junior year, when she took a Gender Studies class, that she said she was turned upside down.
“This professor tells me about the patriarchy,” Rockwell told The Post. ” I barely knew what the word meant. I didn’t know what she was talking about. I wasn’t someone that into feminism. I just knew that I felt I had always been free to do what I wanted. I never experienced sexism. But I was told there’s the patriarchy and you don’t even understand it’s been working against you your whole life. You’ve been oppressed and you didn’t even know it. Now you have to fight it. And I just went down this deep rabbit hole.”
But the time she graduated from the school, which charges $60,000 a year in tuition, in 2015, Rockwell said, she’d been “brainwashed” into believing she had been a lifelong victim of patriarchal oppression and had a duty to fight on behalf of other victims: women, people of color and LBGTQ folks.
“I left school very anxious, very nervous, very depressed and sad,” Rockwell said. “I saw everything through the lens of oppression and bias and victimhood. I came to the school as someone who saw everyone equally. I left looking for injustice wherever I could and automatically assuming that all white men were sexist. My thoughts were no longer my own.”
Rockwell said she also developed a drinking problem at college and turned on her mother, Melinda Rockwell, whom she had once considered her best friend. Melinda said Rockwell wrote a “horrible manifesto” right after graduation, accusing her mom of treating her like a “wind-up toy” and a “doll” and never loving her.
“I felt I had to teach her how she was wrong and expose her and to do that with everyone who didn’t see things correctly,” Rockwell said. “The professors encouraged alienation [from parents] and even offered their homes to stay in. They’d say, like, don’t go see them, come stay with us for the holiday. Most of my classmates believed all this stuff, too. If you didn’t you were ostracized.”
Laura Loomer, 29, a conservative activist, also entered Mount Holyoke as a freshman in 2011 but unlike Rockwell left after one semester. She said she was bullied for her conservative views by both her classmates and professors. At one point, the school’s “Holyoke Confessional” — an anonymous chat board online — included an entire thread titled “I Hate Laura Loomer,” she said.
“The entire culture there revolved around hating men and being a lesbian,” Loomer, author of “Loomered: How I Became the Most Banned Woman in the World,” told The Post. “Mount Holyoke and all the Seven Sisters [schools, including historically women’s colleges Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Smith, Radcliffe, Vassar and Wellesley] were designed to be these elite institutions for women at a time when places like Harvard just took men. But they’re no longer places for ideas and debate and a well-rounded education. They’re centers for indoctrination. If you send your kid there you’re signing them up to hate the patriarchy and white people and the founding stock of our country. It’s a bastardization of higher education for the sake of weaponizing naive young women for the sake of advancing a toxic agenda.”
Both Rockwell and Loomer said that students who were conservative or some of the campus ideology were bullied. “Basically, the college says they’re all about progressivism and equality but there are a lot of mean girls of all ages there.”
Melinda Rockwell admitted to The Post she had been so upset and frustrated by the changes she saw in her daughter that she once smashed a vase through a window at her home in Florida and into drywall another time. The two argued when they were speaking but went through months of estrangement.
“She was no longer the Annabella I’d known all her life,” Melinda said. “This girl was the most bubbly breath of fresh air to everyone. She lit up a room. But the light was stolen from her at that school. It was extinguished. It was no different than if she’d been taken away by the Moonies or the Children of God.”
Melinda enlisted the help of a deprogrammer who charged $300 a day as well as Annabella’s old tennis coach, Scott Williams, but was warned that it can take up to seven years for someone to overcome what Melinda considered brainwashing.
“It was like walking a tightrope,” Melinda Rockwell said. “I couldn’t push too hard or I’d lose her, but if I let go I felt I might not see her again. It was as bad as trying to get a child off the streets who’s on heroin. Everyone is so sure it won’t happen to their child. But it will. [Professors and older students] tell the students they are special — it’s like they are anointed — then they tell them how oppressed they are and what victims they are and how they have to go out in the world and be activists to stop the oppression.”
Mount Holyoke did not respond to a request for comment.
Rockwell began working for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign after she graduated but after Clinton’s loss in 2016, Rockwell moved back to Florida. In 2018, she became involved in local progressive campaigns and stopped drinking. When she sobered up, she said she began questioning some of the Democratic agenda — especially the more violent and destructive Black Lives Matter riots.
“My social media feed was an echo chamber of everything I’d been taught at Mt. Holyoke,” Rockwell said. “Everyone had the black square and it was all ‘no justice, no peace.’ But I was starting to think to myself, ‘Why are we burning down businesses in the name of empowerment? How is this helping black people? It just doesn’t make sense.’ It just began to click in that moment about how hypocritical it was.”
But she credits what she calls her mother’s ongoing “relentlessness” in helping her move away from the woke values she said were instilled at Mount Holyoke.
About six months ago Rockwell began a new job as a fundraiser for PragerU, a conservative advocacy group that promotes conservative values through videos. She recently spoke to founder Dennis Prager about her decision to leave the Democratic Party and register as a Republican.
“If my mom had not kept harping at me and not given up I know where I would be right now,” Rockwell said. “Mount Holyoke met its match in my mother. If it wasn’t for her, I’d probably be living in Massachusetts, working for some super-progressive politician, hanging out with people I had nothing in common with except ideology and drinking all the time. And I’d be miserable. But I’d be too stubborn to look at myself in the mirror. I had to really humble myself to admit that I was wrong. And that everything I was told was so hypocritical.”
Melinda agreed. “All you need to know about Mt. Holyoke and so many of the elite schools today is that they say they are about diversity and equality but they refuse to accept students like Laura Loomer or Annabella,” she said.
Still, Rockwell said she worried about making her old classmates look bad — even though she says she thinks the majority of them would now look down on her.
“I don’t want to smear them,” she said. “They were young and impressionable. It wasn’t fair to anyone that there was so space for discourse. While I was there the school preached all the time about how diverse it was. But diversity of opinion was never allowed.”