I Stood Up To My Professor And This Is What Happened

I Stood Up To My Professor And This Is What Happened

I knew that this was my moment, this was my time.
42
views

It was a typical day in my large lecture class. I'm a history major, but this class was from a different program of study, one I was not too familiar with, but a subject I was interested in all the same.

My professor was in the middle of a lecture when a student piped up. She asked why we weren't looking at women's contributions to the field. The class was silent for a moment until our teacher explained that there simply weren't that many. The lecture continued until the girl raised her hand again and explained that she just Googled women in that field during the relevant time period, and there were at least 20 results that came up from her first search. When faced with this challenge, the professor explained that there were indeed some women who were involved in the field, but they were not influential to our subject of study, and therefore are not, essentially, worth the time to look into.

Days passed. I wrote to a former teacher and expressed to her my belated thanks that she had included narratives of women and other marginalized groups in her class, and explained what was occurring in my lecture class.

Noticing the concern that his students expressed, my professor offered the class a vote to see if we wanted to have a day devoted to women in the subject. About a week later, the final results were in — and it failed, with about two-thirds of the class voting against such a lecture. My professor had, so far, only briefly mentioned one woman who was involved in the field, giving her a discussion that lasted no longer than couple of minutes. On one of the final days of class, however, he discussed one female at half-an-hour’s length.

After that class, I talked with some of my friends and expressed what I believe to be important — that we start taking a holistic look at these subjects. I understand that the women in this field were not influential. Part of it has to do with the time period in which we are studying. Women simply did not have the opportunity to get involved in this field — another issue in itself — and those who managed to find themselves in it could not achieve the great success and accomplishments of their male counterparts, for a variety of societal reasons. But what is wrong with acknowledging what they did produce, whether or not they were “influential"? Isn’t there something there that we can learn, if only for context and understanding of a time period? My friends listened and supported my position. They encouraged me to go to my professor and talk to him.

I was nervous. I’m not a confrontational person, and I’ve never been one of the students in my classes to speak up about this sort of thing. I knew that if I talked about it, I would cry. But I realized that those women — and everyone who was part of a marginalized population — deserve to be remembered for what accomplishments they were able to make in spite of their struggles. I knew that this was my moment, this was my time. The next day, I came up to the professor and asked him if I could stop by his office to discuss women in the subject. He looked a little surprised, but said yes.

I walked into his office and told him that I would have loved to have studied women alongside the men we were studying. I asked him how he chose which people to study.

It was a rational, civil discussion, but I cried the whole time. He said, "I can see you're passionate about this.”

I said that, "if we treat women as a separate issue, we perpetuate the dominant narrative that exists today." And there are so many issues that could be fixed if we can learn to liberate ourselves from the current mindset.

He said that his approach is to look at the influential people. He said that he didn’t want to study women simply because they were women — a valid point, in my opinion. And he said that it's not worth our time to look at the very tiny percentage of women involved in the field because that was simply the reality of it. He believes life isn't fair, so he is just teaching to that reality.

I said I could see his point, that that was indeed the reality of it, but again, that only maintains the dominant narrative and affects today. He said he could see that I was trying to give a voice to the voiceless, but he is trying to focus on a group of elite men who had influence in their field.

I told him that I thought it would be valuable to look at just the lives and experiences of everyone during the time period — for context and for learning. Those women have contributions that can map onto the topics and themes we’re learning and would offer a richer experience and understanding.

He said that if I'm this passionate about something, it's not something I should let go. He expressed that he wants to hear what we have to say, and that I shouldn't feel defeated, but that I need to be resilient.

I told him I could see that we disagreed on what was important to study but thanked him for listening to me.

He told me to not feel defeated and stay resilient. Then I left into the rain and pulled my hood over my blotchy face and walked back to my room, feeling defeated and proud and sad and frustrated and strong and bitter and relieved and at peace all at the same time.

I think he understood my general point, but I don't think he really understood that I was seeing this as an intentional act toward equality and justice — equality and justice for my contemporary peers, as well as for all the souls who we ought to remember. This tiny step I took certainly made me realize how much I've taken my rights for granted. Power is an interesting thing.

While my professor and I disagreed in this discussion on how to approach studying women and other underrepresented groups, it really wasn’t a defeat. I had held 40 minutes of my professor’s undivided attention, and we had engaged in a discussion of ideas that he admitted had not ever come up to him until this year. He later followed up with an email, which tells me that I got him to think seriously about this. I’ve sent a response that acknowledges the points he made yet also expresses my position in a way that draws on some of the themes from his class. We’ll see what happens.

I think my professor is valid in some of the points he made and I do think he’s a fair and good person. But it was important to me to challenge the way he is teaching, to challenge the way we approach looking at these subjects and matters, and to defend the narratives — however small or big a role they played — because we can learn so much from them. It was thinking of all the brave suffragettes, all the women who defied the standards of their day, who gave me the courage to speak up. If those stories aren't shared, how can any change happen?

There is a lot that needs to be changed, I believe, in the way some things are taught. I'm glad that I went in to talk to my professor about what I believe needs to be considered and addressed. I'm glad I didn't let my emotions stop me from coming in to talk about it. I was nervous, but I knew that doing what was right and defending my position was something I'd never regret. I'm so grateful to the friends and family who I can lean on for support. Imagine what change could happen if everyone felt emboldened to speak up for what is right.

Cover Image Credit: Unsplash

Popular Right Now

'As A Woman,' I Don't Need To Fit Your Preconceived Political Assumptions About Women

I refuse to be categorized and I refuse to be defined by others. Yes, I am a woman, but I am so much more.

43400
views

It is quite possible to say that the United States has never seen such a time of divisiveness, partisanship, and extreme animosity of those on different sides of the political spectrum. Social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are saturated with posts of political opinions and are matched with comments that express not only disagreement but too often, words of hatred. Many who cannot understand others' political beliefs rarely even respect them.

As a female, Republican, college student, I feel I receive the most confusion from others regarding my political opinions. Whenever I post or write something supporting a conservative or expressing my right-leaning beliefs and I see a comment has been left, I almost always know what words their comment will begin with. Or in conversation, if I make my beliefs known and someone begins to respond, I can practically hear the words before they leave their mouth.

"As a woman…"

This initial phrase is often followed by a question, generally surrounding how I could publicly support a Republican candidate or maintain conservative beliefs. "As a woman, how can you support Donald Trump?" or "As a woman, how can you support pro-life policies?" and, my personal favorite, "As a woman, how did you not want Hillary for president?"

Although I understand their sentiment, I cannot respect it. Yes, being a woman is a part of who I am, but it in no way determines who I am. My sex has not and will not adjudicate my goals, my passions, or my work. It will not influence the way in which I think or the way in which I express those thoughts. Further, your mention of my sex as the primary logic for condemning such expressions will not change my adherence to defending what I share. Nor should it.

To conduct your questioning of my politics by inferring that my sex should influence my ideology is not only offensive, it's sexist.

It disregards my other qualifications and renders them worthless. It disregards my work as a student of political science. It disregards my hours of research dedicated to writing about politics. It disregards my creativity as an author and my knowledge of the subjects I choose to discuss. It disregards the fundamental human right I possess to form my own opinion and my Constitutional right to express that opinion freely with others. And most notably, it disregards that I am an individual. An individual capable of forming my own opinions and being brave enough to share those with the world at the risk of receiving backlash and criticism. All I ask is for respect of that bravery and respect for my qualifications.

Words are powerful. They can be used to inspire, unite, and revolutionize. Yet, they can be abused, and too comfortably are. Opening a dialogue of political debate by confining me to my gender restricts the productivity of that debate from the start. Those simple but potent words overlook my identity and label me as a stereotype destined to fit into a mold. They indicate that in our debate, you cannot look past my sex. That you will not be receptive to what I have to say if it doesn't fit into what I should be saying, "as a woman."

That is the issue with politics today. The media and our politicians, those who are meant to encourage and protect democracy, divide us into these stereotypes. We are too often told that because we are female, because we are young adults, because we are a minority, because we are middle-aged males without college degrees, that we are meant to vote and to feel one way, and any other way is misguided. Before a conversation has begun, we are divided against our will. Too many of us fail to inform ourselves of the issues and construct opinions that are entirely our own, unencumbered by what the mainstream tells us we are meant to believe.

We, as a people, have become limited to these classifications. Are we not more than a demographic?

As a student of political science, seeking to enter a workforce dominated by men, yes, I am a woman, but foremost I am a scholar, I am a leader, and I am autonomous. I refuse to be categorized and I refuse to be defined by others. Yes, I am a woman, but I am so much more.

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

Psychology Can Explain How 'Certainty' Is Making People Post Aggressively On Social Media

Your certainty is showing–and it isn't a good look.

23
views

In the wake of a year marked by much turmoil, I'm sure we're all familiar with hearing or seeing "If you believe in/don't agree with 'x' then you can unfriend me/never speak to me again/unfollow me."

I'm always in awe when I see posts like this, regardless of if I agree with the culprit's perspective or not. And, yes, all people have their opinions and some from all beliefs fall fate to the "Never speak to me again if you don't agree with me" mantra.

Seeing someone I know explicitly say "Don't talk to me if you think [blank]," always strikes me in one of two ways. If I agree: Yikes, you're being a little aggressive, maybe tone it back a notch. If I disagree: We've been friends for three years...do you seriously want me to unfriend you just because I disagree with you?

Albeit there are certain beliefs some hold that TRULY do not agree with your personal moral compass. Sure, I'll openly say, "If you believe that killing puppies is okay, feel free to never speak to me again." In talking about the mantra, I'm focusing on sweeping generalizations, such as, "If you like anything about cats, you can unfriend me."

As a disclaimer, I have to clarify that this article is by no means me offering up my perspectives on any matter, as you will realize as you delve deeper into this article. That's not my point.

My point is that we all have our "certainties", and everyone is absolutely positive of their own certainties. Furthermore, your certainties aren't going to align with everyone's, but that doesn't make your opponent a bad person, and it does not mean you can't be friends.

Let me explain:

In a social psychology course I'm taking, we're reading Being Wrong by Kathryn Schulz. This book focuses around the premise that we all think we're right and we rarely realize/remember we're wrong. What happens when we do? We take it out on ourselves or other people or try to find a scapegoat for why we were wrong. In Schulz words, "Leaving behind our more thoughtful and generous selves, we become smug, patronizing or scornful...that's when we are fighting with people we love."

Passion is great. Be passionate! It's totally okay to have your opinions, but there's a reason for why people become so condescending, and often aggressive, when it comes to their personal beliefs, their certainties: it's psychology.

I'm focusing on those times when there is no evidence to prove that one point of view or the other is correct. These can be noted as beliefs, or opinions.

Everyone thinks their belief is right (and I'm not saying it's wrong, but I'm also not saying it's right). To go a step further, many are certain their belief is correct.

Schulz points out that what she coins "certainty" is toxic, or in the words of Bertrand Russell, "an intellectual vice."

Why do you ask? The answer lies in the fact that when any one person is certain, she throws all learned social grace aside, thus our opponents "cease to matter to us."

Hence "If you disagree with me, you can never speak to me again, thanks."

I get it, you're fired up and angry. More importantly, you're certain that what you feel is correct. And this certainty masks your ability to incorporate your "Representational Theory of the Mind." Representational Theory of the Mind is the ability people develop in childhood to recognize that there are different versions of reality, namely that people have different takes on reality than you personally hold.

You fail to recognize your opponents may have valid arguments as well, they are not simply ignorant, idiotic or evil, as Schulz elaborates. Furthermore, they may think the same things of you.

And here's the catch: Neither of you are right.

Next time you want to tell everyone who's ever disagreed with you to never speak to you again, remember: Your certainty is showing—and it isn't a good look.

Related Content

Facebook Comments