June
6th 2009
Caroline Knapp on professor-student relationships

Posted under: American history, book reviews, Gender, students, the body, unhappy endings, weirdness, women's history

drinkingalovestoryA good friend of mine recently recommended Caroline Knapp’s Drinking:  A Love Story (1996), which I somehow missed when it first came out.  It was a great recommendation–a funny and touching memoir of alcoholism by a writer for The Boston Phoenix, the king of indy media back in the day.  (Since I too had lived in Boston in my teens and then again in my twenties in the 1980s and 1990s, we shared some of the same stomping grounds.)  She takes you minute by minute into her alcoholic thinking and into her very messed-up life.  For example:  she points out that one of the problems with drinking to excess is the recycling bin, something that had never occurred to me.  But Knapp explains that recycling bins reminded her of exactly how much she was drinking, and describes her elaborate schemes for stashing and then dumping bottles in various trash bins and recycling containers around town in order to hide the extent of her drinking.  This is just one of the ways that drinking came to structure and organize her life.

One of the chapters that really interested me was her chapter 6, “Sex,” in which she describes the way that alcohol served to alienate her from her body and her sexuality.  At first it alleviated teenage anxieties about her developing body and relationships with boys, but alcohol rather than boyfriends is really her primary relationship.  One passage in particular will interest readers who followed the last post, “Just call him ‘Dr. Love‘,” on professor-student sexual relationships.  Knapp writes about an experience she had shortly after graduation:

Brown was famous for its lack of distribution requirements and I’d foundered there for my first few years, taking an absurdly random, disconnected collection of courses before settling into a combined major in English and History, and choosing that not because it tapped into some deep reservoir of intellectual interest on my part but because it was a small, new program in which I could stand out.  A man named Roger headed that program.  He was in his forties, an immensely popular member of the English department, and he had a razor-sharp intellect, and he was the first professor at Brown who made me feel special.

I’d wanted that feeling desperately–it’s another classic impulse among alcoholics, to seek validation from the outside in–and I hadn’t found it in college. . . . Academic achievement was something I’d always sought as a form of reward:  good grades pleased my parents, good grades pleased my teachers; you got them in order to sew up approval.

Roger, whom I met as a junior, gave me precisely that brand of approval, and I’d found it familiar and reassuring:  he gave me a purpose, someone to please.  In my senior year I narrowed my major down to eighteenth-century British literature and history because those were his areas of expertise.  He became my advisor, and under his direction I wrote a prizewinning thesis, graduating from Brown with honors.

Two days after my graduation I went out to lunch with Roger, a celebratory gesture on his part.  He’d suggested this after the graduation ceremony . . . and he’d called the next day and arranged to pick me up at my apartment.

We drove to a small, sunny restaurant about ten minutes away from campus, and he ordered us martinis.  Then he ordered wine with lunch.  We ate lobster salads and talked about writing. 

After lunch, in his car, Roger leaned over suddenly and kissed me on the mouth.  I was startled and scared and confused when he kissed me, but I was also drunk, so I let him.  I let him keep kissing me, and I let him put his hand on my breasts, and when he called me on the phone a few days later and asked me to have lunch with him again, I agreed because I didn’t know what else to say.

I must have gotten drunk  with Roger six or seven times that summer.  We’d drive to a different restaurant each time and we’d have many drinks–usually martinis. . . and after lunch, blind drunk in the daylight, we’d sit in his car and I’d let him kiss me again.  I’d close my eyes, panicked inside but numb, very numb, and I’d feel his breath on my neck and his tongue in my mouth and I’d just sit there, not knowing how I’d gotten into the situation and not knowing how in the world to get out (pp. 83-85).

Did I mention that she was living with a boyfriend at the time?  When she mentions that her boyfriend will be moving to Chicago at the end of the summer, Roger’s response is, “‘Oh good. . . . Then we can become lovers.’”  (Ed. note:  who talks like this?  “Lovers?”)  Knapp reflects on the relationship, and acknowledges that while she never was attracted to Roger, she encouraged his attentions.  “[T]he martinis allowed me to indulge in that attraction, to flirt with it, to tap in to a feeling of power I was otherwise too self-conscious and fearful to acknowledge.  After the second or third drink I know that I was leaning across the table, interest in my eyes, asking questions, drawing him out,” 86.  She explains:

Alcohol puts you in such a box, leaves you with such an impossible equation:  you have to sexualize the relationship in order to feel powerful, and you have to drink in order to feel sexual, and on some level you don’t understand it’s all fake, that the power is chemical, that it doesn’t come from within you.  So I’d sit there in the car with Roger, and I’d let him touch me and I’d feel completely stuck, just the tiniest stirring of inexpressible rage–at him, at myself–bubbling inside (87).

But because of the alcohol, she couldn’t become an actor in her own life–she remains someone who is acted upon by a man she no longer even respects, let alone is attracted to.  She writes later in the book that “[y]ears later, I heard he had died, dropped dead of a heart attack while jogging on the East Side of Providence.  I didn’t feel a thing,” 93.  Considering the discussion we’ve had in the past day or so, I wonder about the role that alcohol may play in relationships between students and professors, especially considering the age and power differences many of you discussed.  How many of these relationships would never have gone beyond (mostly) innocent flirtation were it not for alcohol, especially considering the youth and inexperience of the students involved, and the pathological relationship that many college students have with alcohol?  Knapp’s story almost makes me want to assume bad faith on the part of any faculty member who buys alcohol for a student.  (Knapp was born in 1959, so she must have graduated from Brown in the early 1980s–that’s nearly 30 years ago, but still well past the era of the three-martini lunch, for cripessakes!)

Many of you may have heard of Knapp already, or know that she died almost exactly 7 years ago at the absurdly young age of 42.  Reading  Drinking:  A Love Story made me all the sadder, because of the loss of such a fine autobiographical writer without a shred of self-pity.  I really would have liked to hear her thoughts about life in her 40s, 50s, and beyond.

30 Comments »

30 Responses to “Caroline Knapp on professor-student relationships”

  1. ADM on 06 Jun 2009 at 10:00 am #

    You know, I’m going to throw a spanner in here, just to do it. And not. This is just to say that I know, and have known, younger women students who very knowingly have seduced, or been full participants in the mutual seduction of older male faculty. That’s clearly not what is going on above, but rather something that I’ve been thinking about over the last few posts.

    I’m having a hard time articulating this, because there are some fuzzy grey areas, and it’s too easy for this to look like blaming a victim.

    In fact, I think that this is why we as faculty really need to understand our own positions of power and privilege and the responsibility that comes with them — and that that understanding can also help to protect us (although by us, I have to admit I mostly mean our male colleagues, who seem more susceptible for reasons I don’t really get). But I’ve seen this happen with rather sad results for both parties — the man who seemed extra-special, and a ‘catch’ in his mid-forties becomes less so 10 or 15 years later. It’s isn’t that he hasn’t changed – it’s that she has, or has grown up. And so it seems to me that it is even more incumbent on the faculty person to discourage any situation or friendship of the sort … except that this is problematic if we are supposed to be treating students not as students, but as junior colleagues. Saying, “I know that you think this is a good idea now, but trust me, in 10 years, you might not,” can be very patronizing and paternalistic. But it’s also true in many cases.
    I don’t know what the solution is, except that it makes more sense to expect the faculty person to refrain from getting involved with students, and to actively discourage students who seem to want a relationship. And I’m talking about post-graduate students here. I think undergraduates are just plain off-limits.

    But in cases where the younger female grad student — a woman probably around 20-24 — is clearly making advances, clearly an adult … at what point is she allowed to be responsible for her own actions and mistakes?

    I don’t have an answer here. I’m just teasing out the fuzzy grey areas. Because the only solution I can see is to have institutional policies against such relationships, but also know that, with the job market as it is and the way many of our lives are bound up in our academic circles, these rules could also prevent people who are close in age (because there are young junior faculty and more and more grad students who might be their age or older) from developing relationships where the power differential is minimal or non-existent.

    hmmmm.

  2. Historiann on 06 Jun 2009 at 10:46 am #

    ADM–you raise good questions. Whether they want to be or not, women are always held responsible for their behavior, and frequently for the bad behavior of men, too. I don’t think we should infantilize students–but I actually don’t think that a senior professor being pursued by a confident young woman would be patronizing at all to discourage her. There are some relationships that can work across decades, but most don’t, at least not for long, and not just for the younger person.

    I think it’s pretty clear when a faculty member (like Roger) is in his 40s and plying a 22-year old recent grad with drinks and fondling her–that’s a situation that’s more than a little creepy and morally problematic. I think most people would make a distinction between Knapp’s story and a consensual relationship between (for example) a 30- or 35 year-old grad student and a 40-year old assistant or associate professor.

    But–all other professions have strict ethical prohibitions on dating or otherwise having a sexual relationship with their patients/clients. Attorneys can get disbarred and physicians can be suspended if they are in sexual relationships with their clients or patients. Clergy too are forbidden to date people they may be counseling, as are psychologists and therapists. This is all for the protection of the vulnerable, and age doesn’t matter. Why have professors never developed a similar code of ethics that forbid sexual relationships with current or potential students? I would say that that’s one of the unspoken perks that a traditionally male faculty enjoyed.

    Admittedly, the ethical guidelines I mention above wouldn’t have applied to Roger and Knapp, since she had graduated. But they might cause people to reconsider in the event they find themselves in a flirtation with recent students and/or very much younger people.

  3. Susan on 06 Jun 2009 at 10:49 am #

    Hmm. My memory is fuzzy, but I’m pretty sure that this man had also — about the time Knapp would have graduated — just been denied tenure. He was a famously charismatic teacher.

    But to follow up on ADM’s comments, what I’ve been thinking about is Knapp’s description of him as someone who made her feel special. Which links to one of my thoughts on why young women are drawn to these relationships. So many smart women feel indequate, and when a teacher/professor treats you like an equal, tells you you are smart and interesting. . . Which is to say there are the predators (and what Roger did to Knapp, carefully waiting until she’d graduated, was certainly predatory) but also the insecure young women. So confidence for the girls would be a defense.

  4. Historiann on 06 Jun 2009 at 11:03 am #

    Susan–interesting! I wondered if any of my commenters might have run into “Roger” in the late 70s or early 80s at Brown themselves, or have knowledge of him.

    I think you’re right–”specialness” is something that can be readily abused by predatory professors.

  5. Janice on 06 Jun 2009 at 11:17 am #

    But because of the alcohol, she couldn’t become an actor in her own life–she remains someone who is acted upon by a man she no longer even respects, let alone is attracted to.

    That’s what’s so sad. I’m often surprised how lacking in confidence are some of our brighter students. This is especially obvious with females (I think that the males hide it better and/or we’re trained not to look for vulnerability in males). And this lack of confidence is exploited, again and again, by those around them as well as being the problem that alcohol is supposed “to solve” in their messed-up view of matters.

  6. life_of_a_fool on 06 Jun 2009 at 11:23 am #

    ADM and Susan both make very good points.

    An undergraduate (who went on to marry one of her professors shortly after she graduated), told me about her preference for older men, and how men her age and women the man’s age objected, out of a sense of competition for the partners. So, I, as a woman who’s a similar age to the man, would object solely because a potential partner for me was taken out of the market by an attractive younger woman. I didn’t say anything, partly because of the context of her telling me that, but also because she would most likely dismiss anything I said as the ranting of a bitter old maid.

    That, I think, also highlights the difficulty of directly discouraging or forbidding such relationships. As a 22 year old, I probably would have thought the same thing, because I fancied myself mature for my age (I wasn’t), and other people just wouldn’t understand that *we’re* different/special/”real” (most likely we wouldn’t have been). The same may be said for formal policies prohibiting such relationships — for some, they may add to the appeal of doing something “forbidden.”

    And, I do acknowledge that sometimes these relationships may work out, though I agree with most commenters here that this is unusual.

    Knapp’s experience is one, particularly predatory, example of these types of relationships. Alcohol may play a broader role, in loosening inhibitions, being a part of purely social interactions, etc. There is a correlation between the most egregious examples of professors that I know engaging in relationships with students and their alcohol use, in general and with students.

  7. Historiann on 06 Jun 2009 at 11:24 am #

    Janice–indeed. And, I should have said in my earlier reply to ADM that Knapp herself blames herself as much as Roger. (This book is after all primarily a memior about alcoholism, not about her relationships with men. I just thought this anecdote was interesting in light of the previous post.) At one point, she writes that she used to tell this story as though she were the absolute victim of Roger, the complete creep, but her awareness of how the alcohol (and her dependence on it) enabled the relationship made her change the tone of the story so that she bore some responsibility for it.

    She might be more willing to let Roger off the hook, but I’m not. (Then again, you can probably see that her portrait of Roger is far from flattering. If Susan’s recollection is true, I wonder why Knapp didn’t mention that he was denied tenure? That makes him seem all the more pathetic. (Then again, a guy who has martinis for lunch and grooms women for drunken gropes is exactly the kind of guy who isn’t doing what he should be doing to win tenure…and he’s exactly the kind of guy I like to see denied tenure!)

  8. Flavia on 06 Jun 2009 at 11:25 am #

    I’m with Susan. I think that what attracts the junior partner to the senior, academic authority figure is that sense of specialness, of being taken seriously.

    I also think that what accounts for some of the relationships we’ve been discussing over the past series of posts, from the junior partner’s perspective, is an attraction to adult-ness — you’ve got a smart young person trying to envision ways of living in the world as an adult and an intellectual, and the professor love-object provides a window into that world: whether or not the student sees it in these terms, the prof is on some level the spouse the student envisions having someday (or is the person the student hopes to become!).

    This can actually be a healthy process, I think — it’s what most student crushes on professors are about — but it goes off the rails when the prof either misinterprets a student crush, or deliberately takes advantage of it as Knapp’s clearly did.

  9. Historiann on 06 Jun 2009 at 11:30 am #

    life of a fool, I loved this: “As a 22 year old, I probably would have thought the same thing, because I fancied myself mature for my age (I wasn’t).” And I probably flatter myself to think that I’ve come very far in the intervening 18 years!

    I think it’s interesting that you see alcohol as key to these relationships. It make sense, in that they have already set different boundaries (if any) between themselves and their students than most faculty set. There were rumors that a junior male colleage (at another university) was seen drinking in undergrad dives and hitting on undergrad women. It makes sense to me that both of these juvenile behaviors would be intimately intertwined. (Why would a married man with a child otherwise be hanging out in an undergrad bar by himself?)

  10. Historiann on 06 Jun 2009 at 12:38 pm #

    And, Flavia–right on. I like your description of the “attraction to adult-ness.” Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised to hear so many smart women in the previous thread confess to having had a relationship with a professor (or former professor.)

    Presumably, it’s admiration and a desire for emulation that motivates a lot of these young women. But–in most cases, the relationship ends (if not ends badly). So, I wonder about the disillusionment with academe that may follow, going from really admiring and looking up to a professor to feeling perhaps damaged and resentful.

  11. Indyanna on 06 Jun 2009 at 1:24 pm #

    On adult authority/charismatic figures in the academic world hanging out in inappropriate places, albeit slightly off the faculty track, and the predictable consequences: The head basketball coach at Iowa State a few years ago [the highest paid state employee] was photographed at an undergraduate party, simultaneously groping a large glass of something and two young women. He resigned, took a large settlement, checked into rehab, and was soon hired at the U. of Southern Mississippi, where he still is.

  12. Dame Eleanor Hull on 06 Jun 2009 at 1:38 pm #

    “‘”Oh good. . . . Then we can become lovers.’” (Ed. note: who talks like this? “Lovers?”)”

    Someone who wants to impress a much younger person with his sophistication and romantic sensibilities. “Then we can f…” just doesn’t have the same effect. “We” implies mutuality, and “lovers,” gosh, how poetic!

  13. brassai on 06 Jun 2009 at 2:03 pm #

    Roger’s response is, “‘Oh good. . . . Then we can become lovers.’”

    That reminds me of those SNL skits featuring the amorously pretentious academic couple, the ones that starred Will Ferrell.

    Now that I think about it, wasn’t the Ferrell character named Roger, too?

  14. New Kid on the Hallway on 06 Jun 2009 at 2:33 pm #

    I love this book (full disclosure: NLLDH is an alcoholic – sober for years now – and he loves it, too, for its truth about alcoholism. In case anyone was wondering).

    I think the appeal of feeling special is huge. And if your professor is attracted to you, you MUST be special – and smart! the man is all about the mind, what else would attract him to you?? I mean, I’m sure it’s often NOT about that at all, but it’s a way you can distinguish a prof’s interest from a fellow student’s interest, I suspect.

    (The following are more related to your last post, but: My special SLAC uncovered a bunch of these relationships my junior year and had to undergo quite a bit of soul-searching. These were NOT healthy relationships (of course, we’re talking about traditional-aged undergrads & tenured profs, so not an especially fuzzy line). And then there was the asst. prof who used to sneak in my dorm each night to sleep with the woman who lived upstairs from me (who had a long-term boyfriend living in France at the time). And someone from my grad cohort has married one of his former students.

    Myself, I have no problem with institutions flat-out banning faculty-student romances (or, at least, banning them in circumstances where the prof. might ever have any influence over what happens to the student, but, honestly, I’m pretty good with “ever”). But I think one reason why is that I have never been interested in older (than me) men (or younger men), and so I don’t quite grasp the fascination in these relationships. And another reason is that I imprinted on SLACs as the model of undergraduate education, and I think faculty-student relationships at SLACs are really prone to abuse.)

    Thinking about women/alcohol: there was a book that came out in the last 5 years or so called Smashed, another memoir of drinking, but by a 24-year-old talking about her high school and college years. It was kind of 24-year-old-y, but one of the things she talked a LOT about was the way that alcohol numbed her enough so she could negotiate sex. This was with her peers, not her profs (I don’t think – I might be misremembering), but it was interesting because it echoes quite a bit of what Knapp said and what you suggest here – the way that alcohol facilitates sex.

  15. Rad Readr on 06 Jun 2009 at 3:01 pm #

    I avoid reading alcoholic memoirs because I find them alcoholic effects — in other words, what can be more alcoholic than to write a book about one’s own alcoholism. The reason it’s called “Alcoholics Anonymous” is not only to protect the anonymity of the people who go there but also to de-emphasize the selfishness and self-centeredness that are an important dimension of alcoholism.

    I think you are correct, historiann, to bring up the role of alcohol in these liasons. But by having a drunk (and not just someone who gets drunk) as part of the relationship, alcohol becomes a major motivation. In the passages you cite, the encoutners were not only about the prof but about the martinis and the wine. In other words, she got into it for the buzz and couldn’t get out because of the buzz.

  16. Z on 06 Jun 2009 at 3:17 pm #

    Well I am more and more antidrug.

    I changed my destiny by seeking psychotherapy to deal with alcoholic parents.

    Psychotherapist was destructive and instead of leave (I thought it was MY fault things weren’t going well) I took antidepressants so as to put up with him.

    I don’t like being around people who drink to excess or are otherwise vampires and I quit smoking when I realized I smoked to drug myself to put up with people like this.

    At social events I don’t want to be at, but have to be at for some kind of work reason, I drink. I was at one such event yesterday and realized — had I not accepted the wine, it would have been harder to take, so I would have left sooner and had more of the afternoon to myself.

  17. The Rebel Lettriste on 06 Jun 2009 at 4:02 pm #

    Early in my undergrad years, I would go to my senior, tenured, male profs’ office hours–to discuss my writing, my project, my whatever legitimate thing had brought me there in the first place–and I’d frequently end up staying a long time. Way past the 15 minute normal allotment.

    I have always felt a twinge of embarassment, thinking that I had SO monopolized my profs’ time. As a prof myself, now, I’d be loath to give over that kind of time to my students. (I give, really! But I’ve got piles and piles on the plate.)

    But now I am wondering whether in some way my old dude profs very much wanted me to hang around. Because it made them feel special, and interesting, and attractive. I was 18-20, righteously pissed about the entire state of the world, but cute enough and certainly desperate for some paternal-y attention. An easy mark, in some way.

    The one dude? He became my advisor. And told me he’d “only recommend” me for an MFA, “but definitely not for the PhD.” Funny, that.

  18. Historiann on 06 Jun 2009 at 4:37 pm #

    Wow, Rebel Lettriste–was that guy patronizing or what? (Maybe you want to borrow Notorious, Ph.D.’s concept of the “grudge Ph.D.?” Yes, he may have been getting off on your attention to each and every bon mot that dropped from his lips. Too bad the respect wasn’t mutual, though! Indyanna’s story rings true–although my bet is that successful sports coaches have even more license to molest women than even the most charismatic of proffies.

    And, Dame Eleanor and brassai: I’m glad you enjoyed my mockery of the “lovers” comment. (And Dame Eleanor, I think your diagnosis is spot on.) While I had my share of fun in my unattached days, I don’t think in my life I’ve ever called someone a “lover.” I think I’d die of embarassment. (“Lover” just seems like a word that should always be put in quotes and italicized, to signify that someone is pronouncing the word with a cheesy fake French accent.)

    New Kid–thanks for the other tip. What I liked about Knapp’s book was that it was written by someone in her mid-30s, not by a kid, because the issues are different, I think. I’m glad to hear that NLLDH liked Knapp’s book, too! And, on Rad’s point about the alcoholic memoir being an essentially alcoholic undertaking–I can see your point. But–isn’t self-centeredness also a writer’s occupational hazard, too? So what’s an alkie writer to do? Knapp’s book is so good because she shows in mulifaceted, subtle ways the truth of the title of her book. Ultimately, alcohol was the most important relationship in her life, and she was rearranging everyone and everything else in her life so that she could drink.

    Professor Z.–one of the things you might enjoy about Knapp’s book **SPOILER ALERT** is that a major subplot is her growing realization that her father’s life was much more complicated than she appreciated when she was younger, and that he too was an alcoholic.

  19. Mamie on 06 Jun 2009 at 4:39 pm #

    Re: Indyanna–there must be something particularly clueless about Iowa men. Last year, Robert Paxton, 50-something president of Iowa Central Community College, had to resign after photos surfaced of him partying and drinking with underage, scantily clad female students on his boat. You’d think the basketball coach story might have given Paxton pause.

    Of course, it might not be Iowa. It might just be a$$hats.

  20. Historiann on 06 Jun 2009 at 4:44 pm #

    And, I may be mistaken, but isn’t Facebook a big part of both of these Iowa-related stories? (As in, how would anyone else have known about these sordid events without it?)

    Maybe I’m just projecting my epic disgust with FB here. Guilty, as charged! There is a funny cartoon in the current New Yorker by “BEK” featuring one of his epically uncool white characters sitting in a chair saying, “I’m just waiting for Facebook to go away,” or something like that.

  21. Z on 06 Jun 2009 at 8:18 pm #

    I’m sure I’d like the book. Meanwhile I am trying to figure out what a “grudge f–k” is. ? Is it explained in this thread … I am not seeing it?

  22. Historiann on 06 Jun 2009 at 8:42 pm #

    That’s where one goes out and has sex with someone else after a breakup just to prove ze can, preferably with a friend or acquaintance of hir ex. Connotes anger, bitterness, and revenge rather than true desire or respect for the new bedmate.

  23. undine on 06 Jun 2009 at 11:16 pm #

    All these stories and the ones on the other thread–wow. I mean, I’ve heard of the “ditch the wife who supported you and take up with a graduate student” scenario as well as the others mentioned (marrying your undergraduate student), but I thought those things only happened a long, long time ago before all the rules about such things got implemented. Thanks for pointing out that it is still such a problem today.

  24. The Rebel Lettriste on 07 Jun 2009 at 9:52 am #

    I didn’t get a grudge PhD as much as end up with a PhD that still mystifies me. As in, “how the hell did I end up HERE?” Especially because I didn’t seem to follow the requisite rules.

    And Iowa + a$$hats + Facebook = all kinds of mess. Ain’t much to do in the hawkeye state but screw around…

  25. Z on 07 Jun 2009 at 12:40 pm #

    Fascinating — grudge f–k. Now I can go back and figure out the meaning of grudge PhD and so on. New Kid, you’re right about the SLACS: drugs, alcohol, and incestuous sex, it is amazing. It is *much* safer to go to a more impersonal school and I have direct experience of all types of school.

    It is weird but very many of my friends are former undergraduate students. It goes like this: I meet someone I vaguely recognize, but who knows me. Where do I know you from? Oh yeah, that class a few years ago…what are you doing now? Oh that is interesting. We hit it off and become friends. This has been happening since I was a T.A. I keep getting more and more friends of this description and now many of them are friends among themselves.

    I am not sure whether it is unhealthy or not but these people are often more interesting than my colleagues because they are now doing something completely different, or than graduate students, because they’re not in the department any more (and in many cases never were, just took a class).

  26. Ann Bartow on 07 Jun 2009 at 6:22 pm #

    If you liked Knapp’s book, you should definitely check out Smashed, which I blogged about here: http://feministlawprofessors.com/?p=92

    I had some pretty intense crushes on a couple of my professors in both college and law school, but I dealt with them by avoiding the dudes outside the classroom as completely as possible, so that they would never guess. To this day I can’t explain why, but I’m very glad all the same!

  27. Sisyphus on 07 Jun 2009 at 7:36 pm #

    I haven’t read _Smashed_ but know some people who teach it here.

    The students at this place are the champions of divulging all sorts of TMI in public and not thinking anything of it. So, in one women’s studies class I was TAing we got on the subject of alcohol and date rape and from there a bunch of my students flat-out said they had never had sex when they were sober before — that they always drink to the point of passing out soon after (or during) the sex. :-( What really blew my mind were the numbers of them who were in relationships, not just picking up random dudes at a bar every night, which is disturbing enough. And none of them — well, not until I had pushed them on the issue quite a bit — could figure out why that might be so upsetting. I guess it’s partly having a real strong party/frat culture here, but it also seemed to be saying something important about having to drug yourself until you could participate in today’s highly sexualized culture. That and if you don’t actively work to learn how to do all these “adult”-type things like sex and flirting and relationships sober, you’ll be forced to use alcohol as a crutch to get you through them for a long, long time.

  28. life_of_a_fool on 08 Jun 2009 at 11:36 am #

    I’m not sure this changes anything, but in the examples I can think of, the men were the heavy drinkers. The women that I know the most about were not. (I would argue that this reflects two things: very blurry boundaries that the professor (doesn’t) draw between himself and students, and a possible desire by the young women to “save” the brilliant, troubled men).

    I also read, and liked, Smashed. It is a young person’s perspective, and at times this is annoying, but is also it’s strength (if that’s what you’re looking for. . .)

    As to Rad Readr’s comment about “alcoholic effects” — I get the point, and these books may or may not be useful to the general public or others with a history of addiction. But, for the writer, this type of memoir is a pretty common redemption narrative/strategy as well — the idea of making sense of your negative past and using it a positive way, in order to try to help others. And, if that works for them, then good for them.

  29. Z on 08 Jun 2009 at 12:12 pm #

    Sisyphus — yes, in this area too and also among people much older, it is assumed you have to get drunk in order to have sex, and it is considered normal to pass out, not remember, etc.

  30. On prohibiting faculty-student sexual relationships : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 10 Jul 2009 at 6:58 am #

    [...] of you confessed to having relationships with professors when you were students, and then in a follow-up post we talked about the role that drinking may play in these relationships.  Why don’t we have a code like that of other professionals which acknowledges the power we [...]

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