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angry little asian
April 4, 2011 10:27 PM   Subscribe

My professor makes me uncomfortable and angry. How do I get through this class without letting my emotions get to me?

I'm taking two courses with a professor that are supposed to cover very basic concepts of culture/ethnicity, religion, and gender. I don't know how to put this-- this professor just says some really incorrect and offensive things and allows a class dynamic that makes me feel really uncomfortable as one of the very few female persons of color in the classes.

examples:
- in a lecture on changing gender roles in different cultures: deadpans that it's too bad women are finding work apart from the family and aren't taking care of 'us', 'doing the laundry and washing the dishes'
- repeatedly refers to [other culture thing] as "crazy!"
- "people in asia don't shake hands" "women who cover their bodies are forced to by their male counterparts"
- reinforces exotification, showing youtube videos of [other culture thing] without discussion of how it is significant to the culture, just as a stand in for an example of 'this is different, how wacky!'

The latest thing he's done for a 'lecture' on ethnicity is project an exam from alllooksame on the screen and ask the class for votes. It was almost half an hour of him calling out "who thinks they're Chinese? Japanese? what about Korean?" while my classmates raised their hands or giggled and laughed at the portraits. Supposedly the reason for this was to demonstrate that yes, asian people do look different.

He frequently says he loves when students argue/disagree with him, but he makes me so angry and upset that I can't even articulate in class exactly why he's out of line. He's never been blatantly racist or sexist or discriminatory, and presents himself as a culturally-accepting/politically liberal person. I've thought about addressing him during office hours, or sending him an email, or talking to the department chair, but I don't know if that'll just be blowing things out of proportion. At this point, I don't trust how emotional I am and I definitely think he senses how hostile I feel towards him. I've been on the verge of crying in class. I need some outside perspective on what to do.

TL; DR: How can I stay engaged in class in a non-reactionary, rational way when I frequently disagree with the professor? How do I deal with this behavior/person?

possibly relevant information:
- dropping is not an option
- I'm a 19 year old female, he is a middle-aged white male
- he is the president of the academic senate and well regarded among his peers
posted by ilk to Human Relations (74 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Campus ombudsman.
posted by k8t at 10:36 PM on April 4, 2011 [15 favorites]


He's never been blatantly racist or sexist or discriminatory, and presents himself as a culturally-accepting/politically liberal person.

The things you're citing actually sound pretty blatant to me.
posted by liketitanic at 10:41 PM on April 4, 2011 [34 favorites]


I'm sorry, this sucks. He's a dinosaur. You probably can't change his behaviour, but you might take comfort in the knowledge that people like him are gradually being squeezed out of many realms of intellectual and professional life. In workplaces where women and people of colour have been allowed to rise to positions of power, these kinds of attitudes are unacceptable. Do what you do to pass the class, then go into the world knowing that you are armed with two great assets - your education, and your cross-cultural competence. Both are valuable. Unfortunately, your lecturer only has the first.
posted by embrangled at 10:41 PM on April 4, 2011


Is it at all possible that he's joking and just has a very subtlly sarcastic or dry sense of humor?
posted by Nixy at 10:42 PM on April 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


Seconding k8t's suggestion of visiting the campus ombudsman's office. If your university has a harassment policy online somewhere, it might be helpful for you to read that before you go—some policies include a section about how creating a toxic environment (e.g. by busting out sexist and racist jokes) constitutes harassment. When I was subject to a sort of similar situation I found it very helpful to have read all the policy documents before I went to the human rights office to talk about filing a complaint, because it stopped me from worrying so much that I was overreacting.

The ombudsman's office will have people in it who will hear you out, and they'll be able to tell you what your options are. This sounds like a creepy and deeply uncomfortable situation and I'm sorry you're stuck in it.
posted by bewilderbeast at 10:52 PM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Find your campus women's center or social justice center and get them involved. "Involved" could mean something as non-confrontational as working with the head of the department he works for to conduct a training for all professors in the XYZ department, or something as confrontational as picketing his classes. (I tend to think that if what you want is real culture change, you probably want to start by something led by the department, or a meeting with another professor that he respects.)
posted by salvia at 10:54 PM on April 4, 2011


Giving your professor the benefit of a doubt, it seems to me he may be trying to be ironic or sarcastic - perhaps an attempt to provoke a reaction. He might be misguided or just clumsy. Or, he might actually be a racist, sexist, bigot, and if that is the case, you won't likely have a productive outcome. You need to find out why he is doing what he is doing, though. It has bearing - what are his motives for saying the things he does?

Have you tried asking questions? Simple ones. "Why do you say that, Professor X?" "What do you mean?" "Are you suggesting that women really should be doing laundry and doing the dishes? Whose cultural values are those? Is that what the [other culture] believe?" "What is the impetus for this kind of cultural shift?" "Why don't asians shake hands? Is that important? What is the function of hand-shaking? Is that accomplished in other fashions by other cultures? Are asians or other cultures adapting to a homogenized global culture? Does one exist? Is one evolving? Are Europeans adopting non European cultural practices or values?" That kind of thing. It's the Socratic method.

Simply ask him to explain himself. Don't pass judgment. Just ask for the information. Be calm when you do, don't let your tone of voice betray anything. Remember, he is human, he is fallible. But it's not your job to try and change his views.

If he is a bigot, you'll see it in his reaction eventually. He'll be frustrated at his inability to convey what seems obvious to him. Don't respond. Watch your emotions, and understand what it is that makes you respond emotionally. Sometimes you may need to count to five or ten before saying anything.

You'll have to deal with pompous assholes all your life. It's a good time to start practicing. Who knows? He might turn out to be a decent guy, just an inept professor.
posted by Xoebe at 10:55 PM on April 4, 2011 [57 favorites]


I had an anthropology teacher just like this once, I wanted to throttle him on a daily basis! He constantly insulted women and people who attended community college. Just take a deep breathe and realize he is a jerk. It might be kind of pointless to try and argue with him. Just do what you have to do to get through the class and write all this down on his evaluation, that way it is documented. His peers probably know that he is insufferable as well, but tolerate him for some odd reason. College is full of instructors who you wonder "How the heck did this person ever become a teacher? Did he/she pay someone off?"
posted by Polgara at 10:58 PM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Given the laws in your state, and your university's policies, can you record him? Might help to let his words speak for themselves instead of a professor said/you said situation later on.
posted by lesli212 at 10:59 PM on April 4, 2011


Yes, it is hard to tell without tone whether he's being (1) dry and sarcastic, (2) a raging racist/sexist, or whether he's engaging in one of my least-favorite professorial tricks, (3) PRETENDING to be a raging racist/sexist/whatever in order to get a reaction, which I think is a totally inappropriate teaching tool but some profs swear by.

When I was in college, I would have spoken to the department chair, who was a lovely man and a good listener, or else to one of the assistant deans for the college, which is who I spoke with when I was actually in a similar situation, when a professor was engaging in #1 and #3 as a cover for the fact that he was really #2, and if a student dared to call him on it, he'd get all, "What, can't you take a joke?" or "My job is to provoke you!" about it.

He told us, "It doesn't matter if you complain or what you write on my evaluation, I'm a rain maker and I'm tenured, you can't get me fired." He was wrong. There were a few other things going on related to classroom management and student treatment, but it was all of a piece.

Anyway, I was definitely so upset by the time I spoke with the assistant dean, who was a woman, which made me feel more comfortable because a lot of what was going on was really sexist, that I did cry when I talked to her about it. It's not the end of the world; I remind myself (and my students, I teach some classes at the local community college) that these are people who deal with teenagers ALL DAY and bursting into tears is nothing they haven't seen before. It was a little harder to have the conversation while I was crying, but the dean treated it as a sign of how out-of-hand the situation was, to render me that upset.

If there is a woman in a position of authority in his "chain of command" (department chair, dean, etc.) that you feel comfortable going to, I would probably go there. Or to your school's diversity officer or ombudsman or whomever you feel comfortable with. I think, even if he's being "funny" and you're misreading it, you're NOT misreading the class reaction and the class dynamic, and that in itself is plenty problematic.

Another, slightly more out-there option, would be to take a reporter from the student newspaper with you to class. Boy is that rich material for a campus expose of the sort campus papers LOVE. At least you'd have a neutral third party to give you a second opinion on the appropriateness of his behavior.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:20 PM on April 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


The other answers in this thread, and your question as well, seem to be skipping a very important step here: talk to him about this. Set up an office-hours appointment to discuss your concerns and talk about how to make the class work better for you. This should come well before you even think about escalating this into a conflict that involves other people.

When you talk to him, don't go in with guns blazing, trying to tell him everything you think is wrong with what he's doing. Try to give him the benefit of the doubt, as Xoebe suggests. Frame the discussion, for yourself as well as him, in terms more like "the class isn't working very well for me, in fact it's making me kind of uncomfortable; how can we work together to change that?" Rather than as an accusation that he's doing something wrong, look for a way that both/either of you can change your approach in order to make the class work better from now on.

If you approach things this way rather than accusing him right away of being an asshole, this will help him to see it as a teaching challenge rather than a direct personal conflict. And this is really how you should try to look at it, as well — it seems very much more likely, from your description, that he is intentionally trying to provoke the class, perhaps in an awkward or unsuccessful way, than that he is actually being as dumb and offensive as you think he is. It can happen that professors over-oversimplify their points, in the hopes of reaching an intro-undergrad audience, so much that they come off kinda dumb if you're paying close attention and thinking along with them. But when this happens, that's your cue, as a good student, to challenge those simplifications, show that you understand the more sophisticated critiques of those simplified views, and thus make the discussion better and smarter (helping the whole class learn by seeing the debate play out and taking part in it). Your description makes it sound like you might well be getting angry at the professor's devil's-advocate positions and straw-man arguments, rather than the actual views he holds outside of the classroom. Try to give him as much credit as you can, assume he's always doing this, and see if it makes a difference in how you perceive the class's conversational dynamics. I suspect that it will.
posted by RogerB at 11:21 PM on April 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


FWIW...

Most of it sounds like he's trying to be funny and entertaining with a bunch of folks he presumes won't be engaged by a deeper discussion on the issues.

It seems as though you'd like the class to be more serious, but for whatever reason, he's chosen a jokey or obviously sarcastic tone.

Sure he could be a crap teacher, but maybe you are taking him a bit too seriously? I'm certain you were hoping for more from this class. In your opinion - how much are you offended, and how much of this is likely resentment and disappointment for having to sit through these shenanigans vs. real learning??

(yes you are paying for school and the quality of the class is important. not denying that at all!)

I think you might have a legit gripe about the lack of depth regarding the subject matter and I would focus on that if I were to start voicing any complaints.

That said, I think you should take the advice to ace the class and move forward into the world confident you are more in touch with the way the world is today. I'm not sure what good complaining would do (you!) at this point.

Consider putting your critique of the class in writing and sending that to relevant school officials after the class is over if you still feel that you just can't keep quiet?


I'm usually pretty outspoken, but I gotta tell you, my gut tells me this isn't a hill you should even want to die on. I wish I could articulate that intuition for you better. Obviously, YMMV.

(Upon preview - Xoebe probably nails it better than me!)
posted by jbenben at 11:21 PM on April 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


RogerB makes wise points, too.
posted by jbenben at 11:28 PM on April 4, 2011


Is it at all possible that he's joking and just has a very subtlly sarcastic or dry sense of humor?

I'd guess this; or alternatively, that he's trying to make a boring job interesting by trying to shock students. Let me tell you, having to teach intro courses year after year is like crossing Huis clos with Groundhog Day. It's exceedingly un-amusing the 2nd and 3rd and 8th time around. Seeing how many outrageous things you can say before students guess you might be playing devil's advocate is one way to liven things up; and it's 15 weeks of ongoing hilarity if the students are too obtuse to catch on.

I know. I have done this. Boredom and frustration are evil, evil things, especially when university administration says to its clever and industrious faculty, "You Must Teach Intro to Basics Every Single Semester. Forever. Who Cares About Your New and Exciting Seminar Proposal? We Have Assigned the Seminar to the Dean's Current Lover Again This Term."

It's too bad, but stuff like this breeds resentment, and it can't help but show up during class.

So yeah, contact the ombudsman, but it really does sound to me as if the prof is trying his hardest to rile people up. It's totally your choice whether to provide the reaction/entertainment he's looking for.
posted by philokalia at 11:49 PM on April 4, 2011 [8 favorites]


Sounds like he's being dry, but it comes across weird. I had a prof who is super liberal but would say conservative talking points completely deadpan. He was actually mocking those points, but since there are people who say that stuff completely seriously, it's not like you would know he was joking unless you happened to know the actual political leanings of the prof. I suspect that's the case here. I get a feeling the prof wants people to laugh at what he says because of how stupid it is. I could be wrong, but he might just be unfunny attempting dry humor.

Have you talked to other students about this? I would get that input before making any kind of complaint. In college, professors have a lot of leeway to teach in a manner they see fit, even if it's somewhat controversial. You might even check out one of those sites like pickaprof to see what past students think.
posted by elpea at 11:50 PM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can imagine a couple of possibilities here:

1. He's a dinosaur and every bit as clueless and backward and offensive as your examples sound.
OR
2. He's trying to get a reaction and is over-doing it in a clumsy way. But he doesn't actually believe the offensive things he's saying. For example he doesn't actually think it's "kooky crazy" that [whatever nationality has a certain custom], but he's overselling the kookiness to try to make the "other cultures are interesting" case to students he imagines are tuned-out.

(And in fairness, if you are pretty aware and with-it, you might be surprised to hear how unaware of other cultures some students are! I've taught at schools where a lot of the students are locals and have never been more than an hour from home in their lives, where everyone is from the same ethnic and religious background -- so things like "not all Asian people look alike" is news to them. There are colleges where a course that's basically "other people are different" is actually needed as a precursor, before you can get into anything about critiquing attitudes of exoticization or talking about other cultures in a more full context, because a lot of students have *such* narrow life experience that it's hard for them to jump right into the more full-context explanations. I have no idea if this might be the case at your school, though.)

So how to proceed?
Judgment call. You need to figure out if scenario 2 is likely. Maybe ask around other students who major in this subject, and see what they think of this guy. Do students who know him see him as a dinosaur, or as someone who presents this material to surprise/interest students?

I think RogerB's approach is good if you think he might be of type 2. Go to his office hours or email for an appointment and come prepared to talk about a specific instance. "You showed that website in class, and I want to talk about what we were supposed to get out of that." or the like.

But - If you feel so upset that you really think you can't talk to him about it, is there some other faculty member you trust? Maybe in the same department, maybe not. If there is, I would probably go to that person and -- confidentially -- explain what's happening, and that you find it upsetting, and ask them what they think you should do (for example maybe they know this prof is an offensive dinosaur, or they know he is of type 2, or they know who the university contact person would be for these kinds of concerns - it varies at different schools, "ombudsman" is a good first step if you can't find anyone else.).
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:51 PM on April 4, 2011


I think I'll respond/follow up later/mark best answers when I have my second day of class with him on Wednesday, but I really appreciate all the responses right now. Some are really spot on and helpful. Thanks so far, and I'd love to hear from more people.

To clarify what I mean by "blatantly racist/sexist," I meant that his remarks are, not necessarily that he is. I don't think he's being malicious or purposefully derogatory. He's definitely trying to be provocative. I just don't have the patience to deal with that in an academic setting when I have to hear that all the time elsewhere. i think it's annoying and a little masturbatory.
posted by ilk at 11:52 PM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


I knew several of the administrators of my university from serving as a student member of the numerous committees, so it was easy for me to approach the dean of whatever, and ask, "am I crazy to think this is a little off?"

They'd usually agree with me, and offer me suggestions on how to deal with it, or they would talk to the professor in question.

Approaching with an administrator not as a complaint, but rather something you want feedback on, give him or her the space to really let you know if it is you or the professor.
posted by Monday at 12:17 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Read his publications, if he has any. Look over any books he may have written or edited, and read every review of his work you can find. Read his thesis if you can get hold of it.

You'll be able to tell who he really is from these things, I think, and who his allies are.

If there are any Asian females on the faculty, make an appointment with one and tell her this professor is making you uncomfortable, and just see where that leads. It's hard for me to imagine that very many people of Asian descent would be anything but horrified by the way he let the class laugh at the pictures on alllooksame.

I think your intuition is right that he knows he's upsetting you. I also suspect he's enjoying it.

If that's true, however, he may escalate his behavior if you can prevent him from seeing how upset you really are, and that would dramatically increase the probability he'll go too far and get himself in some serious trouble.

Wouldn't that be satisfying?
posted by jamjam at 12:22 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


PRETENDING to be a raging racist/sexist/whatever in order to get a reaction, which I think is a totally inappropriate teaching tool but some profs swear by

I think this is likely the case, though I disagree with your assessment of the efficacy as evidenced by the OP. It's quite clear that it evokes a response, and these days that's better than nothing. Kids positively sit on their hands in class. If you aren't going to take a hand in your education and you're just going to sit there quietly while racist things are said around you and never challenge anyone or anything, well, you get all the change you deserve in your world.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:24 AM on April 5, 2011


I think your list of examples shows that this isn't an isolated situation to which you have taken sensitive or unfathomable umbrage. I do casual work in a university, and I'd definitely want to hear directly from a student who was offended by any aspect of my pedagogy. I would want to hear from the student firsthand, in a timely manner [ie as close to when it was happening as possible] before being tapped on the shoulder by an ombudsman. I know this will be difficult for the personal reasons you list - chiefly your frustrated state and the basic human difficulty of facing someone with power and control over your current situation, but I think you should address him directly before taking it further up the chain.

In person or in a simple, calm email [if you are feeling nervous] ask for a time to meet that is convenient to you both and gives an idea of what you wish to talk about. Eg " Prof X, I'm finding some of your examples and commentary on gender and ethnicity rather confronting in "XYZ Course" and I'd like to make an appointment to talk through some of these with you - have you any time available in the coming week?, Regards, ilk"

PRETENDING to be a raging racist/sexist/whatever in order to get a reaction, which I think is a totally inappropriate teaching tool but some profs swear by


It may be a pedagogical tactic to increase engagement or to show some kind of 'with-it-ness' with his class, but however he intends his material to be received by his students, it is making you feel uncomfortable. Maybe that can be your opening approach to avoid defensive posturing that distracts from what you need - which is to be heard.

Try to be as calm and direct as possible when you give him examples, and use "I" messages to make your points. "When the class was asked to call out ethnic origins of people in images, I felt like you encouraged people to laugh rather than critique a set of values. That made me uncomfortable and angry" or "I feel that your comments about women and laundry/cooking were not delivered in a way to 'other' those beliefs, but to make joke about 'what men have lost' when women take up paid work outside the home. I feel like we are supposed to laugh along." To you, he seems [I think he IS doing this] to be naturalising through 'humour', rather than interrogating, dominant ethnicity and gender ideologies.

If he tries to interrupt or defend particular situations or pooh-pooh your response, ask that he just listen for a few minutes; say that this is a difficult thing to express and that you'd like to be able to describe three examples [or five, or whatever] calmly and that you will listen to his perspective when you've finished. If you have them written down, make sure they are framed as objectively as possible, and use them to prompt you.

Listen to his perspective. Hopefully he can reflect on what you have said and satisfy you that these situations will not recur in his class, or that there is a particular reason he is employing these methods that you can accept. If it's not acceptable to you - for example if your experience is minimised, derided or dismissed, that is the time to involve a university advocate.
posted by honey-barbara at 12:48 AM on April 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'd like to second jamjam's suggestion that you look up his publications and try to understand some background to this. Is he a subtle and knowledgeable character pulling stunts in the classroom to hold the attention of students who'll otherwise surf the web or send texts? Is he actually a linguist who got roped into teaching diversity credits because his degree says anthropology on it? Is his research actually on ethnicity and gender such that he's going to say he's obviously an expert and you just misunderstood him? Is there anything you can ask him about, from his work, that's relevant to the class--maybe getting him on track to say things he actually knows something about?

I'm not saying it's your job to do any of that. I'm just answering your question: "How can I stay engaged in class in a non-reactionary, rational way when I frequently disagree with the professor? How do I deal with this behavior/person?"

This guy has failed to understand his audience. And his message is dubious too (simply awful, if he meant some of that stuff in earnest). The main thing that's left, given your aim, is to figure out something about him personally that helps makes sense of this or makes the semester go better.

If that doesn't work out, I recommend taking lots and lots of notes, partly as a way of engaging with the class material (such as it is) and partly as documentation of it for your eventual scathing report to the chair, dean, and ombudsman--after your grade is in.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 12:49 AM on April 5, 2011


I agree with most what other people said... but I'm not sure I would cite this as an offensive example:


- "people in asia don't shake hands" "women who cover their bodies are forced to by their male counterparts"

Many people in Asia don't shake hands - like Japan. That's just how it is. It's a statement of fact. Stick with the more controversial ones that you have.

If you do complain, bring someone with you.
posted by veryblue1 at 1:10 AM on April 5, 2011


when I have my second day of class with him on Wednesday
So wait, he did all that in just one day of class? It seems like even though what you describe was Not Good, it doesn't necessarily mean the whole semester is going to go this way. Did any of your classmates have the same reaction to him in the class you went to and/or in the past? Your reaction is perfectly legitimate, but it still might be good to get a reality check from your peers just to view things through a different lens.
posted by gubenuj at 1:17 AM on April 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


My first reaction was that he's baiting to get someone to deconstruct/call out his comments. Few people ever will. As mentioned by others, read his other papers. If they align with this theory, call him out in class. You might just become his favorite student.

If you have evidence that he's not baiting, you need to bring him to account via a third-party.

Either way, don't sit on your hands on this one.
posted by mleigh at 1:17 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Gah, I'm really sorry you're having an unpleasant time in this course. My first impulse would be to take the semester as an object lesson in learning to deal with difficult people, then cane him in the QOTs.
posted by nerdfish at 1:30 AM on April 5, 2011


Sorry, sloppy wording there-- I meant second class of the week. The classes started the beginning of February.
posted by ilk at 1:48 AM on April 5, 2011


Okay, if it's the start of the semester then yeah, read his materials to check his position as others have suggested. I thought this was a longer trend. He's said that he welcomes dissent so maybe just stop by at the end of the class and ask if he's being deliberately provocative because of x,y,z that you've noticed so far.
posted by honey-barbara at 2:51 AM on April 5, 2011


If you were studying in an Australian university, this is what I would recommend...

Call him out on it in class.
"Professor Andy, I'm not clear if you are being sarcastic or serious. Can you explain your point in a more direct way?"

warning: generalisation - In Australian universities where informality and challenging politics abound (especially in cultural studies, and double-especially in first year cultural studies) this type of provocative approach is a common and maybe successful tactic used to incite timid students into participation. Responding in a passionate manner would almost guarantee you a B, consistent articulate responses will score you an A. Reason? They are trying to teach you to think and speak for yourself.
posted by Kerasia at 2:52 AM on April 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


I would keep your head down and get a good grade. And then slam him in reviews. "Tries to be edgy and provocative but comes across as bigoted and sexist." "Mistakenly thinks students are embarrassed by sharing ideas in class, really they are embarrassed by his awkward inflammatory remarks."

I appreciate that he might like to hear about it in a gentle manner beforehand, but constructive criticism and someone who has power over you don't really go together.
posted by anaelith at 4:24 AM on April 5, 2011 [6 favorites]


Just to chime in to say that I'm impressed by your level-headedness in this issue. Being a middle-aged white male myself, one thing I've earned is that one just doesn't mess with people's emotions (and intelligence, for that matter), even for fun or pedagogically inspired provocation, in topic areas like culture/ethnicity, religion and gender. I would assume that especially when one's teaching a course on these topics one should try to be a positive example instead of a try-rattle-these-folks-a-bit-professor.

So even if we don't know whether he's a dinosaur conceptually, he certainly seems to be a dinosaur in terms of teaching methods*.
If you can live with the latter, perhaps you can let it go for the time being. If his remarks however seriously keep insulting you and emotionally upsetting you, in spite of your effort to keep your wits about you, you probably should have a talk of sorts - either with him, or, if that's not the way to go for some reason, with someone who does the pastoral tasks, ombudsman or whatever else resource our university supplies. Good luck.

*Understanding what's wrong here may actually help you later in your career. I've had tremendous benefits for my own attitude toward students from analyzing crappy professors.
posted by Namlit at 4:53 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Damn. "learned." No amount of previewing....
posted by Namlit at 4:54 AM on April 5, 2011


Kerasala warned that he's making a generalisation, but I've taught cultural studies in Australian universities and I would never speak to my students like that. You just don't create a productive class environment by intimidating or provoking students into speaking up. I'd also suggest that if you want to call this lecturer out on his behaviour, do it in private, rather than in class.
posted by nerdfish at 5:05 AM on April 5, 2011


It's hard for me to imagine that very many people of Asian descent would be anything but horrified by the way he let the class laugh at the pictures on alllooksame


data point: I was actually in a class in China, with Chinese students, where an American professor (not me, I was one of 2 Americans in the class) had the students look at that site. The students were laughing and did not seem disturbed at all, and readily played along. The course was about Asian American Immigration and I think she was trying to point out perceptions that both Asians and non-Asians have about differeNT "looks " that east asians have.
posted by bearette at 5:34 AM on April 5, 2011


I don't know why it is the student's job to dig in and "understand" her teacher's political point of view. A person who considers themselves to be liberal can still be a bigot - I see it all the time.

Whatever is going on in this guy's head, it's clearly failing in a really major way for one student. I think that going to the teacher first is a good idea, but not required - this is exactly what the ombudsman or academic dean of students or what-have-you is for.
posted by muddgirl at 5:35 AM on April 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


- in a lecture on changing gender roles in different cultures: deadpans that it's too bad women are finding work apart from the family and aren't taking care of 'us', 'doing the laundry and washing the dishes'

Out of curiosity, how did the class react? did anyone laugh at this?

The only way I can imagine this spoken by a professor of cultural studies is in some kind of lazy sarcastic way. It may be funny in other totally different contexts. It may be intended as humorous in this particular context, but I really don't see how it could ever translate into a clever or useful way to interact with students. But hey to each their own. I'm not a well-regarded white middle aged male professor, what do I know...

Regardless, you should raise this, and I also think you should raise it in class. In the way Kerasia suggests. Very straightforward, very matter of fact, as if you were a visiting student (ah I wish I could come to class with you to see this in action!) and heard this stuff for the first time and are genuinely curious enough to wonder, is this guy serious or what.

Perhaps this thread will help already in getting enough emotional distance to be able to do that. Else, yeah, bring it up with third parties but first I'd try the direct approach anyway.

Do not allow yourself to feel intimidated by a professor, EVER.
posted by bitteschoen at 5:50 AM on April 5, 2011


When I was in college, I had a painful class like this. The professor offended me every single week and I cringed at going, to the point where I had to drag myself out of bed and it affected my self-image in insidious ways. I went to the ombudsman, here's what she told me, paraphrased:

"The professor is tenured, and isn't going to change or lose classes or do anything he doesn't want to do, ever. This isn't the hill you want to die on. If the class continues to upset and depress you every week, but you absolutely have to take it, see if you can arrange for a note-taker, lecture recorder, and/or tutor to get through it."

So I did. I asked a classmate who lived in my dorm to take my handheld recorder to class, she let me borrow her notes, and we studied together. She didn't really understand why I got so worked up, but she happily accepted my offer to treat her to lunch on my meal plan 2x/week after class in exchange.
posted by juniperesque at 6:04 AM on April 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


I like juniperesque's idea, but it won't work if attendance is part of your grade. Besides, you're paying for this course.

Here's another suggestion: next time you go to his class pretend you're the anthropologist and take careful notes of everything he says or does, as if you were doing research on this strange culture of the middle-aged liberal white male professor. Be detached! Then later go over everything you wrote, pick out the stuff you find offensive, write an explanation of why you find it offensive, and email it to him.
posted by mareli at 6:14 AM on April 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


Your professor sounds like a dick. You'll undoubtedly run across many dicks in your life, so consider this training. Do what you need to do to get a decent grade in his class and move on. Don't waste time trying to psychoanalyze him or figure out how you can get him fired or reprimanded; just get through the course. When you're older, you'll find this skill useful when dealing with incompetent bosses and employees.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 6:19 AM on April 5, 2011


Holy crap, that's awful. I'm so sorry you're going through this.

Do you have allies in the class or on campus to talk this through with? Is there a students of color organization or even a women of color organization? Or a reliable feminist one? I would start by talking to other student allies and various allies of color. Is there another professor or an administrator (even a secretary or someone without power) that you trust?

Can you find out any gossip about this guy? What's his track record? Is he liked on campus? You may not have the connections for this--secretaries, low-level administrators and ally professors are your best sources.

I suggest that you don't start by talking to him, especially if you want an academic career. We already know he's racist and misogynist; racist misogynist people in positions of power usually react badly when the subaltern, as it were, speaks. He may be precisely the type of person to knife you, now or later, and you have to protect yourself.

Here is what I would do: I would find allies to talk about this with regularly. I would document all the shit he says and does. I might even blog a little about it, anonymously on the internet -- ie, on microaggressions or see if you can write a piece for a blog. (Probably not naming the guy). Concentrate on keeping your sanity by putting this creep in perspective. If your professors don't see your evaluations before they give the grades, that's the time to bring out the documentation. (Because your professor will almost certainly deduce that it's you.)

If you find you have lots of allies about this guy--other students who are uncomfortable with him--go together to the administration. Do not go alone. Alone, you are just oversensitive, no sense of humor, politically correct, etc etc. Alone, a bad administration can attack you. With at least five people and documented complaints, it will be much harder to push you aside.

You are valuable. I'm sure this sounds dumb coming from a white person, but I have eyes and I see how women of color get treated in an academic setting, and it's not very good. Take care of yourself.
posted by Frowner at 6:20 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Quite frankly regardless of whether the teacher is xenophobic/small minded, it is YOUR job to learn. If you aren't going to drop the class, then stand up for what you believe in.

You have a voice, use it. Quite frankly it is the job of teachers in classes like this to push you out of your comfort zone. You are outside of your comfort zone, so push back and tell him why he is wrong.

If you don't like it, say so. Say so and back up what you say, not just a whiny, that's not right, but why it's not right and how it brings our society down as a whole and how it degrades humanity.

Challenge him; he is challenging you.
posted by TheBones at 6:38 AM on April 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


He's taking the cheap and easy path of taunting and eliciting emotions and calling it education.

Folks have a offered a lot of good suggestions for resolution but honestly, I think the bigger problem is you are letting him angry up your blood. He's a sucky teacher. That's going to happen more than you would like. You need to learn to cope without letting it so deeply affect your life.
posted by dzot at 7:04 AM on April 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


I too am a middle-aged white professor who presents myself as a culturally-accepting person. If I were screwing up like this, I'd want to know. I think that if you bring him your concerns you have every chance of getting a good response.
posted by escabeche at 7:05 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think this is likely the case, though I disagree with your assessment of the efficacy as evidenced by the OP.

I didn't say ineffective; I said inappropriate. For exactly the reasons in the original post. I worked with a professor who did this ALL THE TIME and his classes had high drop rates and he was CONSTANTLY getting reported for sexual harassment, to the point where finally the powers that be had to take notice. It turns out, "I was spouting unpopular opinions as if they were my own to provoke students," is a poor defense to sexual harassment charges once the college lawyers are involved.

Moreover, leading your students to distrust you creates a weird classroom environment where learning isn't well-supported. There are many, many ways to provoke classroom involvement and student discussion without pretending to be a bigot. It's appalling to me that so many people think it's a good or acceptable method, particularly when there are many more effective methods available, that don't require acting as if racism/sexism/whatever is normative.

And, honestly, the dean of my area wants to know about this kind of crap and strenuously disapproves of professors doing it. It leads to high student dissatisfaction rates, lower student grades as compared to other sections of the same class (students get upset and check out), more grade challenges, and more official complaints lodged against the professor, up to and including the huuuuuuuuge sexual harassment issue the one guy ended up having. All that for a weak-ass teaching method that doesn't teach students much, isn't the only one available, and creates an environment where racism and sexism is normative. Awesome! We actually had a whole faculty lunchtime training session on where the line is and when you've crossed it after the sexual harassment thing blew up. Interestingly, the only professors who felt like it was a legit teaching tool were (some of the) white men over 40; everyone else found it offputting, upsetting, and inappropriate. The fact that only the visibly privileged thought it was appropriate to pretend to be racist or sexist should tell you something. And none of these guys could understand why their female colleagues and colleagues of color found their statements distressing.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:06 AM on April 5, 2011 [15 favorites]


but he makes me so angry and upset that I can't even articulate in class exactly why he's out of line... I've been on the verge of crying in class.

This is the part you can control, and despite his actions, this aspect is entirely your problem. If you're so upset you can't articulate your thoughts, or even approach him for claification, then, frankly, how can someone know how accurate your description is?

Seriously, you can excericise restraint. Be willing to do it, and then you can call him out. You'll then either have an actual reason to take your complaint to the next level, or you will come to an understanding.
posted by spaltavian at 7:30 AM on April 5, 2011


I want to add a couple of things:

1. "The benefit of the doubt" - there's no real reason to give people the benefit of the doubt when they're saying racist, misogynist stuff, unless you have a strong personal reason to do so. (Ie, it's a good friend who you know is a bit clueless, someone you're mentoring, someone you care for.) If someone is in a position of power and prestige relative to you, you are not obligated to try to think "hm, what is the most charitable explanation I can possibly find for this behavior?"

White people (IME) often respond to racist statements by identifying with the speaker--they think "hm, if I said something awful like that, it would be by mistake, so I bet the speaker is just making a mistake!" I think it's more politically productive to identify with the listener--the person of color, the woman, the woman of color--who hears these things and feels them hurt.

2. It's not your job to challenge this dude when he's saying racist stuff. His racist stuff is on him. If you want to challenge him, you can--but it's not your duty as a student to disprove every inflammatory thing your professor says. Ultimately, the professor is responsible for the classroom climate and for supporting his students. It's great if you feel like you can challenge racist and misogynist stuff in class, but I sure do know there's a huge emotional cost.

Again, I think people in positions of privilege don't quite get how tiring this stuff is. If it's an academic exercise--like, if you're being the feminist guy (or, as I sometimes am, trying to be the white ally) you can put that down when you leave the class. There's even some emotional satisfaction--"I'm an ally!!!" When it's about you, when you're explaining that it is your race, your sexuality, your lived experience, it's real, and you can't pretend your peers won't treat you differently or that you aren't really putting yourself out there.

Do what you need to do. Challenge if you want, but don't beat yourself up if you stay quiet.
posted by Frowner at 7:38 AM on April 5, 2011 [9 favorites]


Some humor or sarcasm does not transfer across cultures/generations.

And a professor teaching a class on "culture/ethnicity, religion, and gender" is not supposed to know that?

Look, he probably just has a big ego and thinks his approach is brilliant, but come on. Think of the setting here. University, not teasing and taunting among friends over a beer. This guy is getting paid good money to open his mouth. The fact he got to teach this kind of class is already something that should make him tone down the 'provocative' humour. I totally understand ilk's reaction: "I just don't have the patience to deal with that in an academic setting when I have to hear that all the time elsewhere."

ilk: I am wondering if you can talk to other students about this as well? maybe others are just as annoyed but not showing it?
posted by bitteschoen at 7:43 AM on April 5, 2011


I think this guy is being sarcastic and either is handling it badly and/or you are taking him too seriously. Why would he teach a class on culture and gender if he were a racist/sexist who thought women should be "doing the laundry" etc.? Read his articles and either try to go with his style or go talk to him.
posted by walla at 7:43 AM on April 5, 2011


1. Yes, talk to him. Office hours are a wonderful thing. Indeed, get into the habit of visiting all your professors' office hours semi-regularly. You'll gain a lot more insight into them and into their classes. And it's not going to hurt your grades.
2. Every situation is different, but here's an anecdote: The very best professor I had in college was intimidating--nay, terrifying. He made it abundantly clear from the outset of the semester that we could say whatever we wanted about him on our evaluations, because he wasn't going to read them. Indeed, he found the entire notion that the students would assess the teacher to be ridiculous on its face. I was astonished at first, but came to agree with him (many classmates didn't). That's not to say that there's no such thing as professorial incompetence or that your professor isn't displaying such--I couldn't possibly assess that from afar--but it is to say this: consider the possibility that he's an acknowledged expert in his field, president of the academic senate, and a well-respected professor for a reason. Maybe he really is just a douche, but maybe you're just a 19 year-old kid who could benefit from exposure to things outside her comfort zone. Maybe neither. But do the work to find out.
posted by willpie at 8:03 AM on April 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


The reasonable people in that room need a leader. That leader is you. (Or not - "fuck it" would be a fine response, too, of course.)

Your audience is not him. It's the 80% or so of other students who pretty much agree with you but are too intimidated to say so and need you to provide the lead-in that allows them to talk.

Some possible lead-ins include:

* "I know you love it when people disagree with you so here goes..."
* "I know X cultural behavior sounds 'crazy,' but I am curious. Why do you think that culture does it? Anybody have any ideas?"

So, if you want to fight this fight, take a huge step back and act calm even if you don't feel it. You want to exude a sense of "Hey, I'm just passing thru. Here's my 2 cents. Later, gator."

This will take some practice. Personally, I write a script out beforehand if I know I have to deal with a jackass. Jackasses are supremely creative and its impossible to anticipate every bit of stupidity they might spew. That's ok. You just need to bat a few back at him.

Somebody once told me that you don't get a green lawn by individually pulling up every damn weed. You do it by growing good grass till it chokes out the weeds. The grass you are growing in this class is the look of polite disbelief on everyone else's faces. You will not defeat this guy, but you can politely undermine him all semester.
posted by selfmedicating at 8:04 AM on April 5, 2011 [5 favorites]


JJ86, she does state in the question that she is one of the very few female persons of color in the class. I took the post title as self-referential, but it doesn't really factor in my answer below.

ilk, I understand where you are coming from. To me, the concern is not about him being offensive to you (or any person already sensitive to cultural/gender issues), but rather about the student who will take his "crazy" statements an acceptable way to view anything outside their circle of experience. Perhaps this approach might be one you could use if you talk to him outside of class? Framing this as a question about what he hopes the class is getting out of it could be a good way to refocus your feelings of anger and hurt about the issue. I hope that makes sense, I'm not usually a responder to this type of question...
posted by smalls at 8:06 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


[few comments removed - at the point at which you're saying "Not to be harsh but ..." you should maybe come back to the thread a little bit later. thanks]
posted by jessamyn at 8:21 AM on April 5, 2011


Are you kidding me? Why would someone with antiquated, offensive opinions be in charge of a class on gender, religion, and ethnicity?

Because he is so entitled and out of touch with the experiences of others, including women, minorities, and foreigners, that he has deluded himself into thinking that he's a swell, liberal guy. Some of the most self-proclaimed "liberal" people I know are the most insensitive. They feel like they're so well-educated, hip, and clearly NOT RACIST OR SEXIST, NO, NOT ME, NEVER, that they can just say anything they want to whomever they want whenever they want because they have just evolved past being subject to those kinds of criticism. One moron in particular (a teacher, Obama supporter, and progressive in general) makes broad offensive generalizations about lesbians and queer culture to my face. And of course, he never fails to be surprised and hurt when I tell him he's being an ignorant boob and making offensive assumptions. I imagine this Professor would act equally shocked if called on his shenanigans.

Not to mention, the structure that put this man in this position is probably equally clueless. I really sympathize with you, OP. This is a tough, frustrating situation. In similar situations, I have found it very cathartic to get together with a group of similarly frustrated angry friends for a really vehement bitching session. Do others in your class share your frustrations? Know any radical feminists?
posted by Lieber Frau at 8:26 AM on April 5, 2011 [11 favorites]


I cannot favorite Lieber Frau's comment enough. (I was trying to put my thoughts and feelings together about this particular subtype of person and she nailed it, so perfectly, that I feel relieved like she did my work for me.)
Either way, finding fellow classmates who feel the same as you and contacting, en masse, school administration or the school paper would be the most effective way to get your points heard. Good luck and PLEASE update us how this plays out.
posted by 8dot3 at 8:31 AM on April 5, 2011


My dad is a professor and nothing could kill somebody's career like student complaints. The administration really doesn't want to deal with complaints especially if the prof doesn't have tenure yet. So you actually have a lot of power here. Very brave: complain to dean now (with other classmates if possible). Not as brave but still effective: complain after class is over.

But the other possibility is to challenge the ideas he is putting forth by speaking up. I had a class in college on civil rights and people were supposed to exercise a right they had for their final project . One group went outside to burn a flag. Another showed up in Nazi uniforms...I wasn't really comfortable with either project, but I think part of college is to expose you to ideas even ideas that make you uncomfortable so that you learn to reason and articulate why the idea makes you uncomfortable.

So next time you might raise your hand and say "I don't think that's true here's why"
posted by bananafish at 8:36 AM on April 5, 2011


Oh and PS, by the way, the ignorant boob from my anecdote above regularly hides behind the fact that he was "just joking around". This kind of person will doubtless tell you that you "just can't take a joke" and imply that there is something wrong with you for being offended by his shitty behavior in the first place. But there is nothing funny about this type of insensitivity. He is making you, and probably others in your class, uncomfortable, and you are paying tuition for the privilege. You have every right to be livid.
posted by Lieber Frau at 8:36 AM on April 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


I wasted about 15 years (during the degree process and some years of engagement afterward, because I live in the city where I got my degree) thinking a college prof/wannabe mentor was being subtle and challenging, and finally, around age 35 or 38 or some point way too damn old to be fooled by this anymore, finally realized he was just an asshole.

I'd sit silently, take the tests, get through the class, and move on. He's probably carefully playing the game within the rules, which doesn't change the fact that he gets off on making people uncomfortable.
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:40 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


There's some wild misreading and exaggeration going on in this thread at this point.

We already know he's racist and misogynist

We know nothing of the kind. ilk herself says he's likely not so.

racist misogynist people in positions of power usually react badly when the subaltern, as it were, speaks.

The original question says: "He frequently says he loves when students argue/disagree with him".

there's no real reason to give people the benefit of the doubt when they're saying racist, misogynist stuff

One huge reason to give someone the benefit of the doubt is that they're in the middle of teaching a course on the subject.

It's very obvious which answers in this thread are coming from people who have ever taught and which haven't. I sympathize completely with the desire to be supportive, but it's nonetheless true that by far the most likely explanation here is undergraduate discomprehension combined with poor pedagogical strategy, not secret asshole racism.

Answers that don't take account of how often college students get angry or hurt for bad reasons aren't really worth taking seriously here. Anger is often a defensive reaction to being asked to process an uncomfortably new idea, or to being unable to articulate a good critique of something that intuitively bothers us. Learning to process this kind of content more seriously in intellectual discussion, and to be less emotionally knee-jerk or prone to just get inarticulately upset about it, is a totally reasonable pedagogical goal for a course like the one ilk describes — and ilk has not yet learned that lesson, as this question shows. Please consider that this frustration may be happening because the professor is actually trying to teach her it.
posted by RogerB at 8:43 AM on April 5, 2011 [8 favorites]


It's very obvious which answers in this thread are coming from people who have ever taught and which haven't. I sympathize completely with the desire to be supportive, but it's nonetheless true that by far the most likely explanation here is undergraduate discomprehension combined with poor pedagogical strategy, not secret asshole racism.

As it so happens, I have taught. While it's true that I said some screwed up stuff occasionally (for which I flinch whenever I remember it), I did not have a consistent habit of making my students of color uncomfortable. And I wasn't even teaching a class about race and culture, and I sure wasn't tenured or an experienced teacher.

I've also been a queer woman in classes taught by many, many straight white men, some of whom were clueless and some of whom were sexist homophobes. Even when I was in undergrad, it was pretty easy to tell the difference. One of my favorite teachers ever pulled that whole "saying controversial things to get you upset" routine, and he telegraphed in signs a mile high that he was kidding. He also counterbalanced his inflammatory moments with his real beliefs, precisely so that we knew he was not endorsing his inflammatory comments.

And honestly, I've seen professors damage the careers of students who challenged them or who made them uncomfortable.

This is an entirely separate question from stupid student evaluations, or students who get "uncomfortable" because they're expected to do the reading, or any of the many ways in which students can sabotage the original process.

And yes, if you say racist stuff or misogynist stuff--as documented by the OP--then you are a racist or a misogynist. The degree to which you are a conscious racist is pretty much determined by whether you try to stop yourself and change.
posted by Frowner at 8:52 AM on April 5, 2011 [8 favorites]


Oh, Jesus. Don't take his bait. He'll be so proud he trapped a student into doing exactly what he wanted. I've had Profs like this and they always had these smug little smirks on their face when they got a student to challenge them, like the student didn't "get" the clever trick he'd just pulled to force class participation. The student would look like a humorless idiot and the professor would feel he was "provocative" and really teaching something instead of being an obnoxious, boring parody of some Phillip Roth character.
posted by pineappleheart at 8:56 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, and I've taught undergrads. FYI. This guy isn't racist. He just thinks he's smarter than everyone else.
posted by pineappleheart at 8:58 AM on April 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


I have taught undergrads. I have dealt with ridiculous complaints from students who are overreacting or misinterpreting things I've said (including one student who, after a discussion of whether or not international trade is beneficial to the economy, told my boss that I should be fired because she felt that I had specifically and personally insulted the work ethic of her father, whose job was outsourced). If even half of ilk's original post is true, this professor should not be in the classroom.

ilk, I absolutely agree with everyone who says that it's not your job to do anything about this if you don't want to. You're not obligated to represent women or racial minorities, and you're not obligated to make a stink that might result in a backlash against you, unless you feel like that's something you want to take on. You have every right to coast through the class and keep your head down and then slam him on the evals. I'd recommend taking good notes and writing down specific quotes, and then citing them in your eval verbatim, including the dates on which they were said and any context.

If, however you want to speak up now and try to improve the class or get the professor to stop, I'd recommend starting by simply questioning him. Try an exchange like this:

Prof: it's too bad that women have jobs and aren't taking care of us anymore...
You: Professor, I don't understand. Can you clarify what you mean by that?
Prof: I was just joking about how women used to do our laundry?
You: I'm sorry, I don't get the joke. And who is included in "our?"
Prof: Well, it's funny because women used to do all of the work for men.
You: I don't get it. What's the funny part? Can you tell us which cultures used to have women doing all the work and are now egalitarian?

That is, make him explain the stereotypes he's relying on. First of all, because it diffuses the "joke." It's not funny anymore (not that it ever was, but the point is to make it tiresome for him to have to explain the comments). In addition, you can bring things back to the subject of the class and get a discussion going about, e.g., whether western cultures currently have an egalitarian division of domestic labor.

If he persists in making comments that make you uncomfortable, you have every right to go to the department head or the dean. You have every right not to if you don't want to be involved, but you would absolutely not be wrong to report this. The reason universities have sexual harassment policies and antidiscrimination rules is, in large part, to protect students from classroom behavior that affects their ability to learn and participate in class. That's happening here, and you should be able to seek support from your school's administration to stop it.

I wish you the best of luck. You shouldn't be in this position, and there are no easy right answers. But there's clearly something wrong going on here, and it's up to you to decide how involved you want to be in dealing with it.
posted by decathecting at 9:36 AM on April 5, 2011 [8 favorites]


This guy isn't racist. He just thinks he's smarter than everyone else.

Yeah, that's my best guess as to what's happening here.
posted by ob at 9:38 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


This guy isn't racist. He just thinks he's smarter than everyone else.

To me, that doesn't really matter - the second is almost worse than the first. Even if he can claim to his higher-ups and to concerned students that his behavior is just a pedagogic tool, those people in the class who actually hold those positions, consciously or unconsciously, and validated by the fact that a professor in power is expressing them. They almost assuredly won't "get the joke."
posted by muddgirl at 9:47 AM on April 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


Check him out on ratemyprofessor.com. At the very least, warn other students about him. Document what he says, and review it; is he being racist, sexist, etc? Your school probably has an Equal Rights Officer. Find that person, meet with them, and express your concerns, calmly and respectfully. They have almost certainly had other complaints.
posted by theora55 at 9:59 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I would keep your head down and get a good grade. And then slam him in reviews. "Tries to be edgy and provocative but comes across as bigoted and sexist." "Mistakenly thinks students are embarrassed by sharing ideas in class, really they are embarrassed by his awkward inflammatory remarks."

Yeah, I'd do this. Maybe add things about how you sometimes didn't want to come to class because you hated the hostile environment, and found it difficult to master the material because you were both angry at the professor and made to feel terrible about yourself and your aspirations, and so on.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:04 AM on April 5, 2011


A lot of times, I think that student grievances about professors' "political uncorrectness" can be exaggerated, just a way for them to practice exerting some power and perform their outrage. But in this case, I think that at the very least the slideshow of Asian faces was incredibly stupid. I can't imagine how you can do something like that without the real possibility of making the Asian students feel uncomfortable (at the least). I can see it as part if a transgressive performance art piece or something .... but in an undergrad class, with apparently no context or real critical guidance, allowing the students to laugh? That really sucks.
posted by yarly at 11:38 AM on April 5, 2011


I was going to check in tomorrow after class but I hadn't expected this large of a response. I marked best answers that were particularly specific in ways I could address professor/chair/dean, but I really appreciate the personal anecdotes/support from so many answers, I wasn't expecting that. Thank you.

More clarification: I never referred to him as sexist/racist. I am not uncomfortable because he's exposing me to "uncomfortably new ideas." I'm uncomfortable because he ok's perpetuating stereotypes/common misconceptions/cultural exotification/appropriation as valid teaching. I have more than five examples.

Also, I'm the angry little asian as referred to by the title. Yes, I know what white people look like, but it's more relevant that I know what white privilege looks like. I'm angry, but I'm not delusional. Second, I already acknowledged that I've been reactionary/hostile and that I'm young (no need to tell me how I feel/how old I am, really), and I did specifically ask for suggestions on how to proactively engage without being overly emotional.
posted by ilk at 12:07 PM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is your concern that 1) he actually believes the things he's saying or 2) that he doesn't actually mean what he's saying, and it's just supposed to make students think, but you don't think your fellow students are getting the message and are just going to end up absorbing the backwards comments as truth? If it's #2, I don't really think complaints will be taken seriously if the prof has tenure, unfortunately.
posted by elpea at 2:34 PM on April 5, 2011


elpea, how about 3) don't care what he believes or intends, because what matters is that the words coming out of his mouth are repulsive and hurtful and are affecting at least one student's ability to learn from the class?
posted by decathecting at 3:27 PM on April 5, 2011


I had a similar experience to juniperesque, but I had to go to class--and in my case, the professor was deliberately provocative simply for the sake of provocation AND prided himself on the number of students who walked out every year. Lovely, eh? (This particular guy was a bigoted jerk, and I'm not afraid to say so. He's one reason why, although I'm a teacher now myself, I think the tenure system is broken.)

Sometimes, due to academic freedom and tenure, there is actually nothing you can do other than ask some questions, write your papers in as intellectually honest a way as you can, fill out an honest evaluation at the end of the course, and file a complaint with the department once you are sure there won't be any petty grade-related reprisals. And learn to talk to other people about what professors are like in advance/be ready jump ships to another class once you get a whiff of this kind of thing right away in the future.
posted by wintersweet at 5:53 PM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


(The last line there isn't meant to blame you for this happening; it's just one thing that I realized I had to start doing, even though I'd always assumed I could always make it through any course in terms of academics...)
posted by wintersweet at 5:55 PM on April 5, 2011


For the record, I didn't say he was racist. I suggested he might be an asshole.
posted by randomkeystrike at 7:45 PM on April 5, 2011


Earlier I suggested that ilk reach out to some sort of campus group for support. I just want to clarify that the main point of my suggestion was not that the group should take up organized action (which is what it sounded like I was saying, but not what I meant to say). The goal was to have in-real-life supporters to talk this through with. Lieber Frau said it best:

Not to mention, the structure that put this man in this position is probably equally clueless. I really sympathize with you, OP. This is a tough, frustrating situation. In similar situations, I have found it very cathartic to get together with a group of similarly frustrated angry friends for a really vehement bitching session. Do others in your class share your frustrations? Know any radical feminists?

You can have bitching sessions, practice the conversation you want to have, hear what the non-white woman from his class last semester tried, hear about others' experiences with that ombudsman, and so forth.

If you're working with others who have been around this same block once or twice, you'll be much better able to think through what efforts are worth it and which aren't.
posted by salvia at 8:40 PM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


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