How to properly cope with the discrimination and bullying in many of my classes?
November 22, 2012 3:51 PM   Subscribe

Conflicted upon how to deal with bullying and discrimination (of various kinds) I am experiencing in my classes this semester.

I am a female science major, and all of my classes are predominately male.
Besides being female, I also have several learning disabilities as well as mental health issues that I take medication for, and have accommodation access through my school's disability student programme. In a nutshell I have experienced sexism, ableism as well as being bullied by male classmates in almost all of my classes.

Some examples of my experiences this semester (I ended up dropping a class because it was incredibly awful):

1) I was bullied, ignored by my male teacher as well as excluded by my male peers from study groups, because I talked in class. Out of 60 students, there were about 4-5 women including me, I was the only one who talked, I should rephrase that as really "saying anything".
(I don't feel a need to discuss the victim blaming responses I've had with male students who sat in this class for fun and talked the entire duration of class to another classmate..)

-A friend told me they advocated for me to be sedated.
-They called me "dragon-lady" because I am part Asian...

2)In my calculus class I've had issues with a male student who refuses to accommodate or acknowledge my need for accommodations for my learning disabilities.
He refused to allow me to sit in his "unassigned seat", he told me "he'd race everyday for that seat" (basically dismissed my needs). When I told him I am being distracted in this class the other day,and it's impairing my ability to learn in the class he rebutted:
"What learning disabilities? Anxiety? Take a Xanax!"

I'm also really afraid that my learning disabilities will not allow me to be able to seek accommodation in my Calculus class and my grade will be severely jeopardized.

I ran out of medication for my learning disabilities (which my parents in another part of the state mail me) right in the middle of my take-home exam. In order for me to function in school and stay on task, I need to take this medication. Down to the wire, I had to take time out from the assigned time to take the take-home exam (sunday morning to tuesday morning) to run around town to get to a Fedex shipping store to pick up my medication.

3) A male student out of anger towards me will exclude me from any class discussion, will not acknowledge my existence, will make generalized statements towards Japan RIGHT around me (because I am part Japanese), and when I ask him to stop he refuses to. (Literally says no). When I try and defend myself, another classmate will argue back at me informing me "I am wrong because of this guy's young age". This "young guy" also made rude comments about anything I said, even to myself on my birthday, which he was aware of because I announced it in class earlier that day.

I'm not sure if anyone has ever experienced a/these similar scenario(s), but I'm curious about anyone's way of dealing with problems like this, and if the results brought you some satisfaction?

(I've also talked to two teachers about the sexism issue)
posted by pixienat to Human Relations (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
"Dragon lady" is a straight-up racial slur. I would not hesitate to speak in private to someone (a teacher, dean, student advocate, etc.) if something this blatant happens again.
posted by availablelight at 3:59 PM on November 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

Look into a disability advocate and take this straight to the dean. Be prepared to sue for your rights. You deserve better -- I'm so sorry this has been going on.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 4:04 PM on November 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

In terms of accommodations, it is not actually other students' responsibility to make accommodations for your disability. The professor should be doing that, based on instructions he is given about your needs from the university disability office. That does not mean that other students should discriminate against you, but at the same time it's not their responsibility to make sure you are, for example, sitting in front of the class. One reason why this is the case is that multiple students in a class might have disabilities that require them to sit in the front of the class, for example. Instead of having students argue with each other (or be forced to disclose their disabilities to each other), the professor is supposed to handle it him/herself. This also keeps the fighting and the drama in class to a minimum, because everyone is taken care of without having to petition other students.

Have you spoken with the school's disability office about this situation? Is there a woman's group or Asian-American group on campus?
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:08 PM on November 22, 2012 [13 favorites]

So, unfortunately, you really should never expect anyone who is not legally required to (e.g. professors, bosses) to accomodate, understand, respect or even acknowledge your disability. They will dismiss your needs because, well, there's a lot of assholes out there and a non-visible disability brings out a "who gives a shit" response from said assholes. So you need to speak with your professor about having a reserved seat for you in the front (or try to get to class earlier if that's possible.) They are the person who you turn to to accomodate you, not the other students.
posted by griphus at 4:31 PM on November 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm also really afraid that my learning disabilities will not allow me to be able to seek accommodation in my Calculus class and my grade will be severely jeopardized.

On reading this, I have to ask--how have you gone about getting accommodations so far? I am not trying to criticize you, I am genuinely confused. I think maybe you were not appropriately informed of the procedures and policies of your school. Generally, this all happens before classes start or in the beginning of the semester.

You should go to the disability office at your school immediately and tell them that you need accommodations in your calculus class, and if possible you should bring documentation of your disability. In the future, this is something you should do at the beginning of every semester, or even before.

Different classes will have different policies about illness or other issues with test/assignment completion, with some professors not allowing makeups at all (EXCEPT in the case of documented disability). The documented part is important and it's why you have to talk to the disabilities office.

If you decide that you want to pursue something, think about what will happen at the end of any kind of official process--what do you want? Do you want to be able to withdraw from these courses with no penalty? Do you want to be able to retake them and have the second grade replace the last? Do you want to be able to switch sections to avoid bigoted classmates?

Will these solutions be worth it if you end up in the program with a bad reputation? If so, consider asking for solutions that make it easy for you to transfer and get out of the toxic environment. For example, you can ask for an extended time in which to complete classwork so that you can get grades for the semester, instead of asking to be allowed to withdraw and retake courses.
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:33 PM on November 22, 2012 [15 favorites]

I think I would need to observe the dynamic. You mention a learning disability as well as mental health issues. I would need to know more about how you deal with your environment when you are not experiencing bullying. Some students do better in a school with smaller classes. A lecture style class with 60 or more students usually doesn't support discussions or interruptions during a lecture, unless invited by the lecturer I would hold my questions until the Q&A portion of the class, barring that I would find out the instructor's office hours and look for clarification there. You have every right to expect no one to harass you or even verbally assault you. However you cannot expect other students to accommodate you. Making friends is part of the College experience, it is no fun to be picked last or even not be picked at all. Not being an Asian female it is hard for me to relate. I don't remember seeing any intentional bullying being done while I attended college especially in my engineering classes. If you can get some video of the objectionable behavior with your cell phone (or have someone else record it) it will be to your advantage.
posted by pdxpogo at 4:41 PM on November 22, 2012

DEAN DEAN DEAN ombudsperson DEAN!
posted by spunweb at 5:25 PM on November 22, 2012 [5 favorites]

They can't treat you like this, or allow you to be treated like this, or overhear that maybe somebody got treated like this on their campus.
Fight. Go right up thru channels. And buck up your allies, and find a few more. You can win this.
posted by LonnieK at 6:20 PM on November 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Several folks have suggested going to the dean and outright tossing out lawsuits. Before you take that route...

Something about this doesn't sound quite right - College certainly has plenty of assholes, but rarely do you see outright bullying... Nor do they generally sit in the front of the room and participate actively in class discussions. And for this to happen in multiple classes? When everything you touch with your left index finger causes you pain, sometimes you should consider the possibility that you've broken that finger.

So, I'd have to second pdxpogo, it sounds like your situation may involve some interpersonal dynamics that go beyond your learning disability. For example, if someone walked up to me in a classroom once I'd picked a seat and unceremoniously commanded me to move for ambiguous reasons involving a (non-visible) disability, I too would most likely cock my head to the side, look them up and down, then tell them to kindly piss off. If, however, someone explained that they can't see the board well and could I please move back one row because the rest of the front row seats had already filled, I'd likely accommodate that person.

Other than that, young rope-rider nailed it - The school needs to take steps to accommodate you; your peers have no such obligation. That said, you absolutely should not have to put up with outright abusive behavior.
posted by pla at 6:25 PM on November 22, 2012 [21 favorites]

IAAL, IANYL. You have no basis for a lawsuit on these facts.

I would like to give more specific advice, but your question does not tell us very much. For example, #1 says, "I was bullied because I spoke up in class". *How* were you bullied?

On #2, as pla remarked, I do not understand your claim to an unassigned seat in a classroom. Why is your right to an unassigned seat superior to anyone else's? This is a serious question. Another serious question: if you are distracted in class, how is that a problem for him? It was also not his fault that you had to go to FedEx to get your medication.

#3 - I don't know what statements he made about Japan or if they were even derogatory, but he gets to say them, even on your birthday. (which strikes me as an odd thing to announce in a college class)

I am very sorry that you are going through a lot right now, but I agree that this may be an interpersonal thing and you might not be systematically bullied. First, while it seems you may have experienced some discourteous behavior, I do not think this is bullying. Second, bullying is rarer at college because the classroom dynamic is much different than in primary or secondary school. Most students simply don't have other students on their radar screen. I noticed in a past AskMeFi you speculated that a professor may have given you a lower grade because he didn't like you and found you annoying. Maybe your perception doesn't fairly realize how others act towards you? I suspect that in fact, people like you more than you think. I wonder if your mental health issues might cause you to think that people are against you when they really aren't? I think that is worth a look.
posted by Tanizaki at 7:43 PM on November 22, 2012 [20 favorites]

You need to talk to the disability office. That's it.
posted by k8t at 8:05 PM on November 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I had/have a couple invisible disabilities. When I enrolled in college, I had a meeting with the dean's office and explained my needs (receiving notes, taking tests in silence, sitting on the left side of the class.) They made a letter for me agreeing to those things, and then I took or sent the letter to each professor who would make the actual accommodations. Students were never involved except when asked to let me receive photocopied notes. I don't recall if I was spoken to rudely by anyone; that's in my opinion entirely separate from the question of disability.
posted by michaelh at 8:21 PM on November 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

The young rope-rider has it: it is the professor's, not he students', responsibility to provide accommodations. Moreover, these accommodations are usually arranged via a third party, ie the disability services office. They are the one to contact the professor, and they are the ones who tell the prof how to accommodate (not just telling them an accommodation has to be made). And if things don't seem to be going well, they are the ones who can easily intercede on your behalf, and ask that something different be done in the classroom. This is especially true, since the professor is generally not told exactly what the disability is, only what they need to do to help the student.

Please see your disability services office. They can help you navigate this. This is so, so true if you have not been working through them already (which is unclear in your question, but has come up in the answers).
posted by vivid postcard at 9:15 PM on November 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

Yea it's not really clear how any of this is related to your disability except for the seat thing, which the young rope rider covered. I'm also wondering when this other kid is bringing up Japan? If it's related to the topic of the class then you should talk to the professor about how he's moderating the class. Then when that doesn't work, go talk to the dean. But if this is just the kid talking before or after class, why are you engaging? Yea you shouldn't have to deal with racist bullshit, but it sounds like he only keeps it up because you keep responding and arguing back.

This might be a little harsh but it sounds like when people don't like you, you assume it's because they're sexist/ablist/racist. The situations you describe sound more like these people don't like you and are the type to use sexist/ablist/racist slurs. Given that, I would approach this as a people not liking you problem, not a discrimination problem.

Finally, if you're the only person asking questions in class and you ask multiple questions per class, the people in your class will not like you and will stand around after class saying mean things about you, especially if your questions require extended digressions. What this means for your question-asking strategy is for you to decide, but this has been true of every college class I've taken. I'm a girl who majored in a technical field, FWIW.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 11:48 PM on November 22, 2012 [8 favorites]

My sister has learning disabilities and worked with the folks in our univerisity's Disability Office.

She knew what her accomodations were and so did her professors.

One thing she did was every semester she went to each of her teachers and discussed what she needed from them. A specific seat in class, more time with the test, not to have to take a mathematics class. Whatever it was.

Now, I used to be a teacher and I worked with IEPs. I had lots of kids who needed lots of different accomodations. Here are some things that I had to pull some of the outliers aside to tell them:

1. Your disability is no one's business but yours and mine. Don't go telling everyone your business, they don't care and they'll use it against you.

2. Don't discuss your medication, or need to take it, with others. (See number 1.)

3. Don't get into a hassle with the other kids. They're idiots. Come to me if you need something.

4. Your disability is nothing to be ashamed of, everyone has issues. That said, try not to exhibit behaviors that are disruptive to the class. Don't ask off topic questions. Don't derail the lecture to your particular interests. Don't randomly talk to people when they are trying to concentrate, or trying to sleep.

The kid with the Mary Kate and Ashley Backpack was doing herself no favors in my high school English class. While you are who you are, and other people shouldn't be dicks to you, try not to be a target.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:46 AM on November 23, 2012 [7 favorites]

pixienat, from looking at your past questions it seems this sort of scenario comes up pretty often. You do something socially awkward, another person reacts with a lack of grace and tact, you're hurt and confused and wondering why people do not accommodate your first action (without necessarily reflecting on why people react negatively), and the situation spirals down from there. And in this case, it sounds like the situation has spiraled down very far indeed.

Generally, this kind of middle-school bullying doesn't normally happen in college unless the situation is particularly unique. So while your classmates are royal dicks for the racist remarks and harassment (and this should be reported), I wonder if there isn't a part you're playing in the dynamic that's making the situation worse.

For example, routinely bringing up learning disabilities and medication to classmates is going to paint a target on your face. Assuming having a birthday means people must be extra-nice to you also does not go over well. Assuming other classmates, rather than your professor, must make arrangements for your disabilities is way crossing the line.

There's a point where you have to realize a large percentage of the world does not automatically give a shit about your birthday or disabilities or new cat-child or whatever, and all you can do is adjust your own actions accordingly rather than react with indignation. Maybe that entails becoming friends with someone if you really want them to care about your birthday. Maybe that means talking over new pet acquisitions with your roommates before bringing it in. But whatever the case is, if you find yourself consistently getting into the same pattern of relationship dynamics then you should look at what part you're playing in the scenario.
posted by schroedinger at 3:36 PM on November 23, 2012 [9 favorites]

Several other comments, before & after mine, are good cause for reflection. While you don't have to accept racist comments or harassment, and should use the channels available to you to report them, as well as to claim your disability rights, I also suggest you give some thought to the ideas expressed by schroedinger's, matildatakesovertheworld, & others along a similar line. Win with some grace and you'll be a lot better off.
posted by LonnieK at 8:50 AM on November 25, 2012

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