Teaching while non-white and female

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.”

0 thoughts on “Teaching while non-white and female

  1. LadyProf, where did I say anything about “mere accusations”? Of course, in most cases the accusations are followed by an investigation and administrative (or in some cases legal) action, and I never said otherwise. Looks like on this thread we have folks lined up to put words in my mouth and then castigate me for saying them! And here on this thread we have examples of the kind of thing I was actually talking about, including some provided by you!

    CPP, I bother partially because I enjoy reading your diatribes! I am a student of good invective, and my classroom is wherever you post.


  2. Miranda, would you please point out where I said “But what about the MEN?” Perhaps this is your interpretation, rather than something I actually said?


  3. Just stumbled on this story in today’s online edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education that has some relevance to what we have been discussing (arguing about) here:

    AAUP Accuses Bethune-Cookman U. of Denying Due Process to 7 Dismissed Professors

    By Peter Schmidt

    [Updated with the university’s response, 5:14 p.m., U.S. Eastern time]

    An investigative panel of the American Association of University Professors has accused Bethune-Cookman University of denying due process to seven dismissed professors, including four men who, the panel says, were fired for sexual harassment based mainly on hearsay and on complaints from unnamed students relayed to administrators by a consultant.

    You can’t make this stuff up!


  4. I think we’re missing a key point in the original story– that the professor was concerned about what form such a student’s retaliation might take — that she fears the possibility of sexual assault.

    From her description, it does sound like the student may be intentionally giving off that vibe in retaliation for the bad grade — whether or not he intends to actually take action, the mere threat of sexual assault is, of course, extremely intimidating. I’ve definitely seen overly aggressive male behavior directed at faculty and there’s often a different flavor in the aggression depending upon the gender of the professor.

    When I was a TA, a student continually flirted with me, and when I repeatedly indicated that our relationship had to be strictly professional, he upped the ante by shouting sexual comments at me in class, staring fixedly at me, and in other ways making it very uncomfortable for me to be in the class. His behavior escalated to stalker-ish actions that made me a bit concerned about my personal safety, especially since I was living on campus at the time. Race wasn’t a factor in this case, as we are both white, but gender definitely made the situation more intimidating and frightening for me than I believe it would be for a male professor similarly harassed by a female student … and I think it is far less common for female students to act out on crushes in such a fashion. Stalking is always scary, but men (in general) are less afraid of sexual assault by women than vice versa.

    Of course, in the original example, a crush wasn’t part of the scenario at all. However, just as it’s possible for a student to act out as the result of a bad grade, I think it can also happen as the result of other kinds of disappointments, and it’s a shame that this type of revenge sometimes takes the shape of sexualized intimidation. But that’s rape culture for you, I guess.


  5. “But that’s rape culture for you, I guess.”

    Indeed. This discussion has been pushed into sounding like many about rape, in that we hear that the real harm of sexual harassment (like rape) is that a man might be falsely accused of it and suffer terrible professional and personal consequences.

    As I said above, although perhaps I should have been clearer: I have never seen or heard of false accusations (or even true accusations!!!) resulting in a man’s termination in my professional life. I am not an attorney nor am I a legal historian, so I’m only speaking from my 20 years in postgraduate academia.

    Here’s what I’ve observed or heard about in those 20 years, just f’rinstance off the top of my head: 1) the male professors who all married their former u/g students at my college, 2) in grad school, the male professor all young women were urged to steer clear of because of his previous unprofessional behavior to female grad students, 3) the male professors in my grad department who married their grad students, 4) the male friend who was importuned by a male professor, and when he said he wouldn’t meet this professor on campus, was reminded by this professor that he was on his grad committee and suggested that he (the perp) could make life difficult for him (the student), 5) the female friend who was sexually harassed by a senior colleague at her previous uni who not only was not protected by her uni but whose perp was protected. (And this is a perp like the one Squadrato describes, with a long record of poor behavior, and yet the uni always protected the perp and never the victims.)

    So, just based on my personal experience, it’s clearly male professors who have historically enjoyed the sexual prospecting among their students and colleagues. No, I can’t provide evidence or links for these cases, because the way that rape culture works is that women (and some men) who complain about sexual harassment are told it’s all in our heads, we clearly misunderstood a harmless friendly gesture, he’s got a reputation so what did we expect it’s our fault we didn’t stay away, and/or there’s nothing to be done because there are no witnesses.

    And this is why some young men feel free to take advantage of this masculine prerogative in spite of the fact that they’re students rather than colleagues, as described in the case above. Because, after all, there’s very little to suggest to our male students that they’ll be punished or held accountable for their behavior.


  6. Pingback: Pushing Boundaries « Reassigned Time 2.0

  7. I haven’t commented here in quite a while because I find this to be a very unwelcoming space. I found my way here from Ressigned Time today and I wasn’t planning to weigh in but I’m really troubled by the way you dismissed Anonymous’s complaint as not constituting harassment.

    You weren’t possibly too restrictive in your definition of harassment. You were wrong. There are no shades of gray, here. By legal definition, hostile environment is sexual harassment and students can absolutely create that for faculty. It isn’t identical to quid pro quo harassment but it is equally illegal.

    It’s important that we’re all on the same page about what legally constitutes harassment. For you to tell a woman that what she experienced wasn’t harassment when, legally speaking, it was is supremely unhelpful. If you had been her chair or a senior colleague, you would have steered her incredibly wrong and left her apparently without options when she should have options, given the legal definition of harassment. You might want to update your knowledge of the concept.


  8. Historiann, what difference does it make whether the threatener is male or female? Women can wreak havok too. Remember Amy Bishop? We need the same laws and regulations for everybody.


  9. We need the same laws and regulations for everybody.

    I’ll get on removing that “only applies to women” from the anti-discrimination statutes, then.


  10. For you to tell a woman that what she experienced wasn’t harassment when, legally speaking, it was is supremely unhelpful

    First, Anonymous didn’t actually describe what he experienced. Anonymous offered a conclusion, to wit:

    but I must note that I find myself on the receiving end of sexual harassment roughly once every other semester

    I don’t know what behavior Anonymous believes is sexual harassment, nor do you, and nor does Historiann. So, it’s hard for me to see how you reach your conclusion that what Anonymous experienced (whatever that was) was “legally speaking” harasssment.

    Anonymous did proffer a hypothetical:

    if a student threatens to bring a formal complaint to a chair regarding a grade, but makes it clear that it would go away if the faculty member submitted to a sexual advance, then I think it qualifies as sexual harassment

    However, you and Anonymous are wrong: this is not sexual harassment — legally speaking that is.


  11. Emma, don’t bing or google and you’ll never be confronted with things you don’t want to see.

    Yes, I spend my whole life being unconfronted by things I don’t want to see. I exist in the parallel feminist universe where everything I see is exactly what I want to see. It’s so lovely here.


  12. Thanks, Emma–but don’t bother. Anastasia only shows up to lecture me about what a terrible, terrible person I am. She doesn’t have time to read carefully and respond to the facts.


  13. Yes, I spend my whole life being unconfronted by things I don’t want to see. I exist in the parallel feminist universe where everything I see is exactly what I want to see. It’s so lovely here.

    Ah, yes, the world as seen by a feminist is full of discrimination and inequality because she wants it to be that way, and in fact looks for things to get angry about. Because she likes being angry. Or something. Right? :-)

    And on topic, on the note of the gender of the student and faculty member mattering:

    It absolutely does make a difference, because men and women are not treated exactly the same by our society. This is Feminism 101 here. Men as a class have privilege and power that women do no have. (JDB, when was the last time you passed a group of women on the street and were seriously concerned about your personal security? More importantly, when was the last time that an individual woman caused you to feel at risk of physical assault of some kind? Just looking at crime statistics shows that both women and men have far more to fear from male perps than from female perps. Thus is it easier for men to exploit that system and use unspoken or spoken threats of violence to keep others “in line.” Because there’s a real statistical probability that a man who threatens violence will follow through.)

    We do need the same laws and regulations for everybody. It’s funny, though, how institutionalized privilege allows certain groups to get away with flouting social convention and legal law more often than other groups. Wacky how that works, right? If you’ve never noticed that, you might want to start paying closer attention to what’s being said in this thread and elsewhere in the feminist blogosphere.


  14. Re: Bethune-Cookman, I just want to note that the AAUP, among other things, disagreed with B-CU hiring outside investigators and legal counsel to conduct the investigation regarding charges of sexual harassment against the four professors who were terminated.

    Rather the AAUP thinks that faculty, i.e. the accused harassers’ colleagues, should have been charged with investigating allegations of unlawful conduct. To quote from the AAUP report:

    Association-supported standards for academic due process relating to the imposition of a major sanction in a case of alleged sexual harassment by a member of the faculty are set forth in Regulations 7 and 5 of the AAUP’s Recommended Institutional Regulations and in its report entitled Sexual Harassment: Suggested Policy and Procedure for Handling Complaints. If a grievance officer is unable to bring about an informal resolution of a complaint, the complaint is to be subject to review by a faculty committee. If the committee determines that the complaint warrants further review, the committee is to invite the parties to the dispute to appear before it and to confront adverse witnesses, to gather such information as deemed necessary, and to reach a determination on the merits of the complaint. If the faculty committee’s findings do not lead to a mutually acceptable resolution and if the committee believes that reasonable cause exists for seeking sanctions against the accused faculty member, the matter is to be submitted to the chief administrative officer. That officer is then to follow the procedures for imposing a severe sanction up to and including dismissal, with the administration assuming the burden of demonstrating adequacy of cause in an adjudicative hearing of record before a faculty body.

    That’s fucking laughable – if it weren’t so fucking predictable. The AAUP proceeds from one imperative and one imperative only: protect the jobs of its constituents.

    I’ve seen corporations with better investigation and problem resolution procedures. The only thing this process is meant to do is keep victims of sexual harassment from realizing they have legal rights and that the conduct they are complaining of potentially violates Federal anti-discrimination statutes, at least. It is meant to keep any allegations of sexual harassment against professors all “in the family”. There’s not even a fucking pretense of objectivity or impartiality.

    In fact, in the B-CU case, the university hired investigators and legal counsel to conduct the investigation regarding the four professors who were dismissed. That’s a lot of what the AAUP is so upset about: the accusations of harassment weren’t submitted to “faculty review” for determination.

    In fact, the AAUP report notes that two of the four dismissed professors had been previously accused of sexual harassment. One was given a “temporary reprimand” and the other “was dismissed as a misunderstanding after a meeting he had with the student ombudsperson.” Suggesting, according to the AAUP, that “the university was at one time able to deal adequately with allegations of sexual harassment.”

    Which is to say, take what the AAUP says with a grain of salt.


  15. Emma, whatever the merits of the AAUP’s position, I am sure you will agree that this is a case in which accusations of sexual harassment were taken seriously by the administration and faculty suffered consequences as a result. This was my point.

    With respect to this particular case, I agree with you. In fact–I would go further and say all cases of this sort should be tried in a court of law before the public. All too often, Universities try to protect their faculty from the consequences of activities that either are, or should be, illegal. However, I suspect that many (perhaps most) faculty would not agree with me.


  16. Historiann, what difference does it make whether the threatener is male or female? Women can wreak havok too. Remember Amy Bishop? We need the same laws and regulations for everybody.

    Dude, people on this blog have neither the time nor inclination to get you up to speed on decades of legal and social history scholarship. However, there is a blog called “I Blame The Patriarchy” (don’t have the link handy, but you can Google it right the fucke uppe) filled with lots of very nice people who would be very happy to patiently bring you up to speed. I suggest you go over there and ask for some help, and then you’ll do much better at understanding the discussions here and at Tenured Radical.


  17. CP, since according to you I am invincibly ignorant, why do you bother to try to “bring me up to speed”? I understand the discussions here only too well. If you don’t think that women and men should be treated equally before the law, I don’t think we have much to talk about. You might want to do a little research yourself–I would recommend starting with the Constitution (don’t have a link handy, but you can google it.)


  18. JDB, who said women and men shouldn’t be treated equally before the law? That would be ideal! It should happen! ASAP!

    Does it happen?

    Like, right now?

    Do all institutions and organizations and social structures treat men and women equally? Right now, today? Has all institutionalized discrimination against women been utterly eliminated?

    All we’re pointing out is that we have not yet reached the ideal where men and women are treated equally by laws and society. If you believe that we have reached that ideal state, then CPP is right that you’re ignoring “decades of legal and social history scholarship.”


  19. Dude, allz I’m sayin’ is you should go over to I Blame the. Patriarchy and raise your interesting point that women are violent, too. They will be very eager to hear what you have to say, and discuss the issue with you. I’m just tryin’ to help you out, bro.


  20. No thanks, CP — I’m catching all the flack I care to deal with right here–no need to go looking for more! But thanks for looking out for me — I know it’s the thought that counts!


  21. CS, my comment was made in the context of the question whether male students bringing harassment charges against female faculty should be treated the same as female students bringing harassment charges against male faculty. Do you agree that they should, or do you think we need to put a thumb on the scale of justice in this case?


  22. Sure, they *should* be treated the same. But in today’s society, they are not.

    A group of feminists and feminist allies wanted to talk about the ways in which women are systematically discriminated against and you insisted that *instead* we should talk about how BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO MEN TOO.

    Fine. Bad things happen to men too. Are you happy now? Can we please return to the topic of the actual post?


  23. CS, near as I can tell, this thread is open to all. Different folks have different points of view. I learn by questioning — how about you?


  24. Really, ‘cuz I thought the point of your post raising the B-CU case was the specious one that unfounded accusations of sexual harassment ruined the careers of wholly blameless, lovely men.

    In fact, one student went to the police, seven specific students complained of sexual harassment including an attempted rape, and one professor admitted that every year he invited the best student in his class to a private dinner at the professors’ shared apartment and that — what a coinkydink! — every year the best student was female! Among other things.


  25. Emma, if you go back and look at the posts, you will see that my point was that male professors do sometimes get punished for sexual harassment of students, as opposed to Historiann’s assertion that she never saw that happen. My preference is that proceedings be transparent and public, and that justice be done.


  26. Oh, but Emma, his questions and the different stories he’s discussed here don’t have a “point” — they’re just innocent inquiries without any agenda or ideological position, questions from a purely objective mind seeking knowledge, only knowledge.


  27. Oh, but Emma, his questions and the different stories he’s discussed here don’t have a “point” — they’re just innocent inquiries without any agenda or ideological position, questions from a purely objective mind seeking knowledge, only knowledge.

    The advantage of the internet for Mr. Black is that he doesn’t have to struggle to maintain that Gomer Pyle look on his face while he types. On the internet, nobody can hear you snigger.


  28. Emma, just because you’ve heard hundreds, nay, thousands of internet d00ds ask biased, ideologically motivated questions re: feminism, cloaking them in a false objectivity that is belied by the content of their posts, you somehow think Mr. Black isn’t as objective and non-ideological and free from an agenda as he claims to be? How cynical of you! Why won’t you give a poor, knowledge-seeking man a chance to learn? That’s all he wants to do!!

    Haha, of course, the most politically and ideologically compromised position to take is that of asserting that one is not politically or ideologically motivated.

    There’s a new book out called “Objectivity” that I’m anxious to read (there’s a great review of it in the current issue of October). It examines the changes in and the development of the concept of “objectivity” through looking at the changes in approaches to scientific illustration over the years. It seems that the work examines and dismisses the idea that absolute and pure objectivity is possible, even in the sciences. I’m looking forward to reading it.


  29. It seems that the work examines and dismisses the idea that absolute and pure objectivity is possible, even in the sciences.

    Interesting. There’s been some work about objectivity in legal theory, it seems most people are agreed that objectivity is not possible and everybody judges everything from their own standpoint. Of course, this only applies to jurors (and there’s some interesting case law on jury picking) and not Judges who, of course, deliver objective edicts from the heights of Mt. Olympus, free of the petty concerns of mere mortals.

    Re: cynicism, “No matter how cynical you become, you just can’t keep up.”
    — Lily Tomlin


  30. not Judges who, of course, deliver objective edicts from the heights of Mt. Olympus, free of the petty concerns of mere mortals

    Except, of course, for female, homosexual, or PoC Activist Judges (TM) who let their personal biases sway their rulings in ways that straight, white, male judges never would!!


  31. Actually, once you make it on the bench, any bench, you’re pretty much presumed to have Olympian objectivity regardless of your race, gender etc. At least by the legal system. That is, there is a bias in favor of upholding trial court rulings, and a larger bias in favor of upholding rulings against civil plaintiffs and against criminal defendants, regardless of who the trial judge is. (See Sonia Sotomayor’s Court of Appeals career, where she overwhelmingly ruled against plaintiffs alleging employment discrimination.)

    There are all sorts of codes and mechanisms for getting around talking about judicial decisions as anything other than neutral application of law to facts. Sometimes the lower court’s application of law is wrong and therefore a decision must be overturned. But very rarely will the system, i.e. reviewing courts, say the judge is personally to blame, i.e. cherry picking facts or cherry picking law in order to advance a particular judicial or social philosophy or personal point of view about, say, the frequency of employment discrimination or rape.

    Those discussions about judicial bias b/c of race, gender, etc., are mostly popular culture discussions. Those types of discussions do happen in the context of complaints to judicial tenure commissions and the like. But they are pretty rare and it takes a LOT for the judicial system to go after one of their own. Think of it like the AMA and doctors.


  32. Oh, definitely. I was just making a cheap joke about the way popular culture paints judges from marginalized groups as supposedly more biased because they are not the “default human being” (white, het, male…).


  33. Pingback: Monday Roundup: Road runner edition : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

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