Inside Higher Ed’s new-ish blog, University of Venus, last week featured this post by an anonymous female faculty member of color:
I was teaching one of my mid-level courses last semester. The first assignment for the class was a reflection paper on students’ socialization experiences within their own families. Usually students write about unsurprising things: the toys they played with, the clothes they wore, the sports and extra-curricular activities they took part in, etc. But last semester, one of my male students turned in a paper which read like a trashy memoir of sexual exploits. The inappropriateness of the paper’s content was matched only by the crudeness of its language. When I confronted him, he refused to acknowledge any wrong-doing and insisted instead on questioning his grade on that paper for the rest of the semester, over the summer, and now in the fall. He spent most of the rest of our class meetings last semester with his arms crossed and eyes locked on me. Sometimes he would stay back in his seat, still with his arms crossed, eyes still fixed on me, while the classroom emptied and I packed up my things. The fact that he is a lacrosse player is a significant detail. On my campus (and apparently some others too according to urbandictionary.com) they are known as “lax bros”- and they engage in behavior that epitomizes college life for at least some male athletes – partying hard, drinking, and acting aggressively.
Right after my confrontation with this student about his first paper, I shot my usual line to my husband, who is also an academic: “this would never happen to you!” And then I realized there were other things that were happening that I doubt happen to him or other male faculty. Based on the content of the student’s paper, and his behavior towards me, it was very clear that he saw me not as a professor but as a sexualized, “exotic” woman. I became acutely aware of my body language and my clothes. I found myself often quickly checking the buttons on my shirt during class to make sure they were all buttoned. I felt awkward turning around to write something at length on the board. I found myself limiting my physicality in other ways, like not sitting on top of the desk as I often do during discussion sessions. I started scheduling students back to back during office hours, if he wanted to meet with me, just so there would be a crowd of students outside my door when he was inside my office. And I made sure that I wasn’t the last person to leave the classroom. I understand that male professors are sometimes viewed sexually by their students. But I think the consequences of that are very different. I wonder if male professors have to worry about being the last person to leave the classroom, if they wonder what kind of predicament the next bad grade they give out is going to land them in.
Read the whole thing. If you’re either non-white or female or both, can you relate? If you’re a white man, have you seen or heard of this kind of reaction from students to some of your colleages? Have you ever had the experience of one malign student whose presence and attitude affected the other students and perhaps your own behavior and leadership of the class? Why do students like this enroll in our classes? It’s a busy day for me at my day job, so (after Linda Richman) I’ll just say, “Talk amongst yourselves.”