The Waiting Room

This could take a while...

Friday, February 10, 2012


Posted by Seeking Solace |

Not much shocks me. I've seen/heard so much in my life as an attorney and a college professor that would make the average person say "DAMN".  But, what happened this week on campus did stop me dead in my tracks to where I had to stop myself from saying "What the hell is wrong with you?"

I was waiting for a group of students that were scheduled to meet with me about their program. I decided to meet in the library so we could converse freely in an open environment. As I sat there, I overheard a group of students at the table next to me talking about a professor who requires that students raise his or her hand if they have a question or comment. The students were complaining that such a request was akin to being in kindergarten and how dare this instructor treat them like children.

No, that's not what pissed me off. Bothered me, yes.

What pissed me off was a student who said that she will not raise her hand in class because that is what slaves had to do in order to request something from the master. She went on and on saying how she was no one's "slave" and she was going to say that the next time she was in class.

Excuse me...What?

The other students, one of which was a student in my program, thought this was a great idea. In fact, they were all laughing, saying that they were going to try this in their classes too.

Are you kidding me?

What was so amazing about this exchange was that I was completely within seeing and listening range. I mean, I was at the table right next to them! One of them turned around and noticed I was sitting there:

Student A: "Oh Dr. SS, I didn't realize you were sitting there. I guess you heard everything we said."

Me: Yes, I did. And, I must tell you that as an faculty member of this college, I am appalled and offended by what all you were saying. But most of all, as a woman of color, I am extremely offended by your flippant comments about slavery. Slavery is no laughing matter, and should not be used as a justification for inappropriate behavior."

Student B: "Well, I was just kidding..."

Me: "The fact that you would even joke about something like that makes it even more inappropriate. What I am telling you is that I am offended by your comments and you should not make such comments anywhere on this campus again!"

There was stunned silence by the students. You would have thought I had taken them behind the woodshed and used a switch to whup their butts.

But, I was hot. What in the hell is this crap about raising hands being akin to slavery? Really? From the time we are in kindergarten, we are taught to raise our hands. The whole reason behind it is that we cannot communicate effectively with everyone talking at once. Raising hands allows for everyone to be heard in a fair and equitable manner.Why should this even be an issue? Since when do students think that they run the show?

And, the whole slavery thing? I don't get it. There are just some things like slavery, the "N" word. the Holocaust or AIDS that one does not make light of or make out of bounds comments. The students who made these comments were also students of color. If someone of another race made those comments, they would be the first ones to cry foul. You can't have it both ways. There is no difference as far as I am concerned.

Of course, some would say that I had not business listening to their conversation. Well, you know what? It's kind of hard not to overhear a conversation when you are right next to a group of people who are talk so loud that anyone can hear. What makes people think that they can just say what they want without consequence? I mean, I am a staunch defender of the First Amendment. I truly believe that we have the right to say what we want, no matter how stupid or offensive it is. But with that comes responsibility and an understand that there is an appropriate time and place for words. These students have no idea who could have heard their comments. We have people on campus, potential employers, administrators and the general public. Any of those people can impact the future of these students. Imagine if a future employer overheard that conversation and one of those students showed up for an interview? Don't they realize that there are people out there who have the power to stop them from reaching their goals, just because the student said something completely inappropriate?

What pissed me off even more that one of my students was among those in this conversation. When I expressed my displeasure with the group, I made sure that I made eye contact with my student. The student did come to my office about 10 minutes after the incident, apologizing for her role in the incident. She said that she realized that what was said was way inappropriate and that one must be careful about what they say in a public forum because you never know who is listening. She also said that the comments were offensive and out of line. She also apologized because she did not like the fact that I was disappointed with her. She said that my respect is very important to her and she would work hard to earn that back. (I did tell her that I lost a little respect for her as a result of the incident.)

It's things like this that makes my job just a little harder. It's not enough to just teach the technical content. It's about the soft skills, and in some cases, the home training that the student should have received.

But, yeah, I am still a little stunned over this one.


Belle said...

No kidding. Me too. But then, one of the things I find both necessary and irritating is taking time every term to go over basic rules of behavior: don't interrupt, don't talk to your neighbor when someone else is talking, pay attention... raise your hand.

This is one of those things that make me realize how different the world of students is from my own. And invariably makes me feel ancient.

Addy N. said...

I'm glad you spoke up and told them how offensive their comments were. And really, what is such a big deal with raising hands? As you said, it's how we keep order in a large group!

Anonymous said...

It's teaching the soft skills that almost does me in every semester. I can deal with a student who doesn't understand the material; aside from that being my job, it's a manageable exercise with a clear goal.

Teaching someone to be polite? To not poke me to get my attention? To play nice with group members? To address me (and their classmates) in a respectful manner? These are not strange cultural customs; these are basic social skills that allow a society to function - and too many of my students are completely unaware.

[phd me/itsprobablyphdme here - I am hating Blogger these days!]

TiredProf said...

Brava for calling them out on this. I sometimes wonder if all of the time spent "communicating" online makes students less aware of how their words affect others. On FB, they (likely think they) don't have to be sensitive to offending or hurting someone with their behavior because others aren't physically present and, because it's instantaneous, they often hit send before they think.

I guess I'm old fashioned: my students raise their hands and don't address me by my first name. And most of them really need help with basic manners...

Alice said...

"It's things like this that makes my job just a little harder. It's not enough to just teach the technical content. It's about the soft skills, and in some cases, the home training that the student should have received." Wow, I can't say it any better. Hopefully, these students will remember your admonishment. Your handling of the situation was perfect.