Teaching Naked, Part 1

I had my students fill out mid-semester evaluations last fall.  No big deal, just answer these four questions: 1) What am I doing to help you learn? 2) What could I be doing better to help you learn? 3) What are you doing to help yourself learn? and 4) What could you be doing better to help yourself learn?  I had them turn the evaluations in anonymously to allow more genuine feedback.mid-semester evaluations

Later that afternoon, I started going through the responses. It was encouraging to see that, in general, responses to the first two questions indicated I was getting better, which was gratifying given the amount of time and energy I spent re-developing the class. For the most part, students were surprisingly honest when responding to questions 3 and 4, showing they understood their responsibility in their progress, or lack thereof. Somewhere towards the end of the ~160 evaluations, I came across one that answered question #2 with: “Teach naked.”  I can’t tell you what the rest of this evaluation said; this is the only part I remember.  I was so angry, and embarrassed, and exasperated, and hopeless, all at once.  I worked so hard.  I am so knowledgeable.  I take such care to present myself professionally. I care deeply about my students’ learning outcomes, particularly with respect to learning critical thinking skills.  But none of that matters.  I clearly will never be more than a thing to look at.  How depressing is that?  None of my work, achievements, or intentions matter to people like that—just because I’m a woman, an object.  It’s maddening!

The more I thought about it, the more upset I became.  The next day, I went for a long walk, again consumed by waves of humiliation and anger; I couldn’t stop thinking about the situation.  What should I do?  Ignore it?  Pretend like it never happened, thereby letting the perpetrator think it is OK to do this to others?  No.  Do I try to find the culprit and punish him/her?  I have 168 students—probably not.  Besides, what would that accomplish anyway?  Making a big deal about finding the person who did it would show the class that it wasn’t cool, but it would also show them that folks can get away with it.  Also, it sends the message that only speaks to the person who did it.  I decided to use the situation as a teachable moment.  After all, if I don’t speak out, I’m essentially condoning it.  So, for the rest of my walk, I decided exactly what I was going to say to the class.  I also decided to wait until I was as sure as possible that the offender would be in attendance.

Almost two weeks later, before giving an exam, I announced to my class: “I want to take the first couple minutes to call out the person who used the anonymity of the mid-semester evaluations as an opportunity to sexually harass me.”  The class was suddenly at full attention.  You could hear a pin drop.  My voice trembled.  I felt humiliated having to admit that some people see me as an object.  I had decided not to make eye contact, so as to not implicitly accuse anyone, and instead stared towards the back.  I proceeded with increasing audible confidence:

“Now, I’m going to give you the benefit of doubt and assume this was not a malicious comment.  Now here’s where the teachable moment comes in: these types of comments, as well as things like catcalls, are not taken as compliments.  They constitute sexual harassment, which is a form of bullying, and like any bully, you are a coward.  An adult would own up to it and face the consequences.  For those of you who may have heard about it afterward and snickered, high-fived, or didn’t in any way condemn it publicly, you are complicit in condoning such cowardly behavior.  Now, here’s a good rule of thumb if you are unsure whether you are harassing or bullying someone—ask yourself: would you do or say this to your mother, sister, or eventually your daughters?  If the answer is no, then, it is inappropriate to do or say to a person you do not know very well.”

Somewhere about halfway through speech, the women in my class, almost collectively, sat up straighter in their seats.  It was really incredible and something I will never forget.  If nothing else, this was important for at least half the class, but I suspect I made an impression on most of my students, regardless of gender.  Anyway, after that I handed out the exam and thought that would be the end of it.

Later that day, I received an email from a student stating she was stunned at what I talked about in class.  She also informed me that she was with the student paper and happened to be assigned to the ‘gender beat’ and wanted to interview me about the experience.  Ohhhhh crap.  As a young, female faculty member, I seriously did not want to publicize the fact that some of my students don’t regard me seriously.  But, what kind of message would I be sending to my student if I only spoke publicly about sexual harassment in situations where I have some power and control?  Also, I know for a fact this isn’t an isolated issue in my classroom or on my campus.  Comments about the physical appearance of female faculty often show up on faculty evaluations.  I realized I was in a good position to speak out about this publicly partly because I would only be there for one more semester—I had nothing to lose if I pissed off the administration.  For these reasons, I decided to do the interview.

The journalist thanked me many times for consenting to the interview—she had a hard time getting others to speak on-record regarding gender issues.  Unfortunately, this wasn’t that surprising to me.  Along with the personal humiliation factor, many of us don’t want to be seen as trouble-makers, especially those seeking tenure.  It shouldn’t be that way, but it is.  This was confirmed by the countless responses I received after the article ran from both faculty and staff, who confided in me that things like this have happened to them.  Many wished they had the courage to do what I had, which made me feel a lot better and stronger about my decision to speak out.  It also makes me sad that as professionals we still have to deal with gender discrimination and that a culture of victim blaming still controls decisions to come forward and talk about these issues openly.

Now, I know in the grand scheme of things, the student’s comment probably wasn’t meant to be offensive.  It may have been partially a compliment and partially juvenile behavior, but that doesn’t make it OK.  Not everyone may agree with the approach I took:

  • Confronting the class using as gender-neutral language so as to address the whole class not just a portion of it
  • Using strong, but not accusatory, language so as to not make anyone feel defensive
  • Stressing that parties aware of the transgression who fail to condemn this behavior publicly participate in condoning it
  • Framing it as a teachable moment rather than a scolding session

Believe me, I know it is easier to brush these kinds of situations that seem somewhat benign under the rug—I almost did so myself—but it is crucial to deal with them in the open.  I hope some of you agree.

GracieABD

You can now read Part 2 here.

275 thoughts on “Teaching Naked, Part 1

    • I used to give career planning seminars to high school juniors and seniors and I would always ask for evaluations. Some were rude, most were nice, but 11 years later the one I remember word for word was the one that said, “You have ugly hair.” Not because I’m vain (I hate my hair too!) but because I was sad for this person. I had a lot of valuable information for that person, but they chose instead to dismiss anything I had to say, and they apparently spent the entire hour resenting me for having the nerve to appear in front of them with an appearance that wasn’t up to their standards for a woman to have.

      I felt sorry for all of the great people, experiences, and knowledge this person will miss out on in life if they continue to nurse the opinion that the outer wrapping has to be perfect for the person inside to have any value. I felt sorry for all of the people this person will be around – in classes in college, their coworkers, and (God forbid) someday maybe workers reporting to him. This person obviously likes to insult others in order to have power and/or feel superior. This person, unless they change, will be very unpleasant to be around in life.

      I do think some can change, if they see the reaction of their peers to their unacceptable behavior. Some will get defensive, but some will learn and grow. It is for the latter that your speaking out is so valuable. Thank you!

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  2. I am honestly floored by the commenters who suggest this wasn’t a big deal, or that GracieABD should have a thicker skin, or there’s something “wrong” with her for being so “sensitive.”

    Note that 95% of these comments are coming from men. These are men who have failed to learn anything from the experiences of someone who lives in a culture where women are constantly belittled, rejected as overemotional, and treated as sexual objects. Where women are disproportionately the victims of violence. Where women are told how not to be raped, but no one teaches men how not to rape.

    Here’s the thing, dudes. There’s science about how harmful this culture is to women. There is data galore on how this culture causes women to suffer physical and emotional violence, and how this culture causes women to leave their careers, and even how this culture detrimentally affects men, too.

    To those of you who are pushing back, and saying GracieABD needs to just get over it, I say: Don’t be that guy. Don’t be the guy that reinforces rape culture. Don’t be the guy that treats women like they’re an object available for men to judge, even in a professional setting, as worthy or unworthy based on their looks. Don’t be that guy that is completely clueless about the privileges that comes with being male in a society that has lots of institutional sexism built into it. Don’t be that guy.

    Instead, be an ally to women. Be sensitive to what they’re going through, and realize you can’t even begin to put yourself in their shoes. Listen, sit quietly with the feelings of defensiveness you have, and respect that we go through a lot that is completely invisible to you, including a multitude of everyday casual sexism. Be supportive, and use your institutional power and wit and sarcasm and even your arrogance, and direct them at the sexists and the other clueless dudes. Use your dude brains for the powers of good.

    • You think a juvenile comment on a survey reinforces “rape culture”, and you talk about all the supposed “privilege” of being a male? Give me a break.

      The proper response, as someone who has experienced this situation, is this: You read the comment. You roll your eyes. You move to the next paper. An idiot who would write something like that on a survey thrives on attention, even if it’s negative. You can bet, whomever it was, they high-fived their friends and had a good laugh after their comment was the subject of a class. They got what they wanted – a reaction.

      • Male privilege is a thing. You have it. Go look it up. I don’t have time to educate every defensive dude on the internet.

        You also seem to have missed everything else that came out of this, too — empowerment, education, solidarity, mentoring. GracieABD can’t control the actions of the students outside of class, but she CAN control the atmosphere within her classroom. In case you missed the bulk of the 180+ comments, I think she achieved a lot more than a troll’s reaction.

    • I am honestly floored by the commenters who suggest this wasn’t a big deal, or that GracieABD should have a thicker skin, or there’s something “wrong” with her for being so “sensitive.”

      I can’t say I’m surprised by people who think that, because I understand where it comes from. Just look at the raw statistics here: We’re talking about one response in 168, and that’s not including the many other classes where no sexist or other offensive personal remarks were put on evaluations. This is a tiny minority by any reasonable standard.

      However, there’s a key point which people who haven’t experienced it seem to miss… it only takes a tiny minority to cause a huge amount of grief. Moreover, if you’re a high-profile, opinionated, intelligent woman, misogynists tend to seek you out to be a target, so you are very likely to disproportionately see misogyny and have it negatively impact your life. The higher profile you are, the smarter you are, the stronger your opinions, the bigger the target that’s on your back.

      It only takes one person to ruin it for everyone. Don’t let that person get away with it.

  3. EDITOR’S NOTE: We’re monitoring comments heavily, and while we’ve let through a few borderline-hostile comments for the sake of teachable moments, we are under no obligation to do so. This is a space for women to discuss their particular experiences in academia: it’s our space. We welcome respectful discourse, but we are under no obligation to post any comment we feel is disrespectful or contributes to a culture of silencing, or to allow the comment space to become hostile to women and their allies in any way.

  4. Pingback: When Students Sexually Harass Teachers | /Slantist

  5. Is it possible that the culprit meant it as a joke, irritated he/she had to fill/answer one of these? I know lots of college students who don’t take those evaluations seriously unless they’re given by administration to see how the professor did.

      • It’s not what you it means that matters but how it is received. Too many people presume to think the problem lies with the recipient. If it didn’t feel like a joke it was not a joke. Take responsibility for your accidental slight. It makes everything better and you better as well.

      • It’s harassment if you’re very flexible with your definition. Harassment is a repetitive behaviour, not a one off. It is also supposedly threatening and or disturbing.

        • The incident reported in this post follows the definition of sexual harassment at most, if not all, universities in the US, following federal guidelines. It need not be repetitive by definition.

        • What @Acclimatrix says.

          Plus, even if something doesn’t meet a particular institution’s definition of harassment, this comment was very clearly a remark that is sexist and degrading and offensive. I would have found this remark very disturbing had I received it and GracieABD made it very clear in her post that she did, too. By choosing to address it in the way she did, GracieABD showed students that harassing remarks and behavior are unacceptable all the time.

    • Would a girl ever think to joke like that to a male professor? No, because if she did he would probably take it as an invitation.

        • Thank you for realizing that Christina, that is very big of you. I certainly do not condone the action the student took and applaud how the professor handled it, though it is 3am and getting into it further is a bit difficult while this tired. Kudos to you though for not realizing that not all males would react in the exact same, and very negative, manner 🙂

    • I don’t know. If the teacher was in a wheelchair, and the answer for #2 read, “Teach standing up.” would that be funny?

      “It’s like those people that say something insulting and then they end it with ‘just kidding’ like that erases it somehow? […] Well then you don’t know how to kid properly. Because we should both be laughing.” — Ellen Degeneres

  6. I’m not sure I would have been so offended. After all, an open-ended question like that to college students? I’m surprised you didn’t get more responses that were similar. I think I would have been more upset that the student didn’t use the opportunity to really give me ideas on how to teach better than on what he did write. I would have explained that I really did want his (serious) input and that he needed to do it over. I’m not saying you handled it wrong. Everyone reacts differently. You know yourself and you know the student; we don’t. People just react differently.

  7. I am totally with you and the argument I like most is that everyone should ask themselves if they would do/say the same to their mothers or daughters.

    • Sadly, it’s an argument I dislike most. Instead of framing it for real empathy–as though women were actual people a man can empathise with–it’s framed as ‘how would you feel if some other guy did this to your property?’. I get why that’s the go to question. It’s very difficult for many men to understand what it feels like to be sexually harassed within the context of a lifetime of objectification and denigration. And they are used to being the default person. Most of the time it is men’s stories that are related in our popular culture. They are rarely asked to put themselves in the shoes of a woman, so they’ve no practice doing so. So asking “would you like it if this happened to you?’ is a bridge too far. Perhaps a better question in this circumstance would be “would you say the same to a male professor”–at least that gets to the heart of the problem: i.e. that men are treated as other “selves” with feelings and autonomy and a professional demeanour while women are treated as fckable or unfckable objects.

      • thank you for this! I’ve often felt weird about the “would you say this to your sister” line, but I’ve never been quite sure how to explain why. this is it, though. yes.

      • I understand where you’re coming from. In most cases, men have a certain power and privilege in society that precludes them from really being able to put themselves in our shoes. However, asking, “would you say the same to a male professor?” doesn’t get students to think about harassment in the same way. First, it invokes some hypothetical male professor to whom the students have no personal connection. By saying ‘sisters’ and ‘mothers’, I wanted students to think about their personal connections with these family members. I think very few students would think of their mother or sister as a possession, and for those that do, this teachable moment would likely have been lost on them anyway. Second, it frames it as me/women as being less authoritative or deserving of automatic respect than a male counterpart. The question assumes this would never happen to male professors, which is untrue. Last, and perhaps most important to me personally, it doesn’t speak to the larger issue of sexual harassment experienced by many women on a day-to-day basis. This was part of the teachable moment I wanted to make clear–that it wasn’t just about what is/isn’t appropriate on evaluations. It also about teaching students how these types of remarks/actions are interpreted. For many people, this is probably the first time that they have ever heard that a cat-call may not be received the way they might have intended. I think this is part of the reason my female students seemed to collectively sit up straighter in their chairs. For example, one of my students commented to me privately that she often got cat-calls while out for a run, but until my talk, had never really understood why she felt uncomfortable receiving them.

  8. It was a rude comment, protected by freedom of speech. Orwellian mind control is not possible, so you must expect theses things and learn to deflect, infiltrate and then co-opt.

    • @Bo – Freedom of speech does not protect offensive or harmful language, unless there is a social benefit. Freedom of speech does not allow for anyone to say whatever they like to whomever they like.

      • Actually, it does protect offensive and harmful language…which is one of FOS’ most important functions because what is considered harmful is very subjective. That said, advocating violence based on discrimination however can be considered a hate crime and where the line is often drawn.

        • It’s not subjective in the case of sexual harassment. All it has to do is be “unwanted.”

          Discussions of whether this is “free speech” or not are a derail. University sexual harassment policies are generally crystal clear and zero tolerance.

        • that is to say…social benefit can be simply discussion of an idea, or a point of veiw and many people find such protected points of view offensive. Look to the westborough baptist church for a good example of how broad freedom of speech is.

          • This is a post about sexism in the university setting. I’m asking that you please carry on your discussion of freedom of speech elsewhere. Freedom of speech is a common defense when someone brings up that they have been sexually harassed or bullied, and it is, as I said elsewhere, a derail– that is, it’s often evoked as a way of defending sexism (or racism, etc.) and or silencing complaints, because it’s argued that the right of the speaker to say something is more important than the right of the listener to live or work in a non-hostile environment. Freedom of speech does not entitle you to speech without consequences. In this case, two things are true: 1) the student should not have made the statement, which was inappropriate for a classroom setting as well as sexually harassing, as defined by university and federal policy. 2) The professor had the right to call that statement out as part of a teachable moment, given that the comment was anonymous. If you disagree with university and/or federal policy, this is not a space for that discussion, because this is not a post about whether or not the comment was sexual harassment. It was. Please respect that. In the interest of keeping this a productive and non-hostile space for discussion, I’m declaring this topic closed.

    • Freedom of speech does not protect you from the repercussions of that speech — otherwise, there wouldn’t be such a thing as sexual harassment policies or laws prohibiting hate speech. Additionally, freedom of speech refers to governments. Not necessarily, for example, universities, classrooms, or blog comment sections.

        • I, for one, would rather have a discussion about ideas rather than to censor them…yes, it is distasteful, but that is all the more reason to draw attention to what we find to be upsetting and wrong…like this teacher did, for instance.

          • I also agree that to invoke freedom of speech is a derail in this case. that was sort of my point. freedom of speech is broad. I just responded to the fact that it was misconstrued as more limited than it is. I clearly don’t agree with people making sexual comments about their teachers…but in a private setting it is up to university policy, unless the comment meets the legal threshold of criminal harassment. this comment clearly does not.

          • It does in fact meet the definition of “sexual harassment” at most, of not all, university institutions, as it constitutes an “unwanted” sexual comment that contributes to a “hostile” work environment.

  9. I had no idea this kind of thing happened to teachers. How naive can I be? I am planning to enter a career as a college prof next year – thanks for the warning and for the wisdom. Glad they Freshly Pressed this, deservedly so. Congrats!

  10. I’ve been sexually harassed before, I really have. It’s not just women. I was once a seminarian, a Catholic seminarian. I can’t count the number of times young men and women verbally harassed me about not having a sex life. I’d taken a vow of chastity, and I was insulted and ridiculed because I’d decided to live a life without sex. I too would use these moments and make them teachable. I used it as an opportunity to explain to people how a person’s life and identity should not gravitate around sex, but instead revolve around that individual’s character and personality.

    I’m now married. And I certainly do not see my wife as an object. And I don’t understand my marriage in terms of sex. Culture pushes men and women to understand themselves and others in these terms, and both men and women are degraded.

    Great article!

  11. Congratulations on addressing the situation and planting seeds for such a profound change. More often than not people think that simply because it is 2013 situations such as these are not as perpetual or if they do occur it could easily be brushed aside as a crude joke to be forgotten. But because of this gender discrimination and racism continue to permeate the fabric of our society and it is more important than ever that we make every moment a teachable moment, whether it was a joke or not. Thank you so much for this story. As an educator I find this incredibly inspiring and your courage admirable.

  12. I am completely against sexual harassment and bullying so don’t get me wrong when I say this, but being a high schooler I (may be wrong) but that sounds like a kid just trying to come up with an asinine thing to write, not meaning anything more then they think they’re funny.

    • @Flutterflyyy – It is good that you are thinking about this – and no doubt the student was trying to be funny. But take that one step further: what about how the recipient feels? Should we allow people to make others feel bad, ashamed, embarrassed, or even just uncomfortable so that they can be funny? And if an attempt at being funny does lead to the recipient feeling bad, shouldn’t that be addressed so that next time they understand that in attempting to be funny, they crossed a line, that they hurt someone, that they treated someone – a woman, a teacher – as a sexual object, and that this is NOT actually funny and IS actually damaging?
      Think for a second about how you would you feel if someone told you that they would learn better if you were naked. Would it feel like they respected your knowledge, your abilities? Would you think it was funny? Would you feel comfortable with that? How would you act afterwards? What about next time you stood up in front of that group, would you feel different? Would you feel less free? Less powerful? More scrutinized?
      Any time someone makes you feel uncomfortable for being a woman (or for your clothes, or sexuality, or whatever else they are commenting on) that is a huge problem. That is why – even if we think that this comment was meant as a joke, and not maliciously – that it needs to be addressed in a blunt, straightforward way.

        • Wrong. That’s why we have sexual harassment policies and hate speech laws and policies, at the federal, state, and university levels. We’re talking specifically about the latter. Go whine about free speech elsewhere.

        • ” The proper response to offensive speech is more speech, not trying to ban the offensive speech.”

          Well that is exactly what she did. She responded to sexually hostile comment with more speech. She criticized the student for what he wrote and laid out why such comments are unacceptable in her classroom or to anyone. She did bash the student and sowed his mouth shut, she used his offensive speech as an opportunity to highlight why such speech constitute sexual harassment and why it is unacceptable. Perhaps, it got him to reflect on his actions and to change his thinking on the subject and maybe a few other students too.

  13. I wonder what would prompt such a comment? If he was trying to get a response from you, then he succeeded. The perpetrator has found that he must not do it again as you took his comment very seriously, as a form of harassment.

    I think your response nipped future comments in the bud as you indirectly implied legal action when you mentioned sexual harassment.

    I pray no one else views you in this way again and are not stupid enough to put their thoughts on paper and give it to you. You took very seriously what he poked in (what he thought was) fun.

  14. You are so brave for confronting and acknowledging that statement. I don’t think I could every have the courage to do anything but run away and hide. The worst part is that they probably didn’t mean any harm and simply thought they could get away with it.

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  16. I have studied and worked in a male dominant environment for so many years that I have grown accustomed to such comments. I am often bothered by the ridiculous remarks I hear on a daily basis, that stay with me for weeks at a time, but never dare “rock the boat”. Next time I will try to find as much courage as you found. Thank you.

    • I’m frequently on the receiving end with the genders reversed. Please speak up, if you haven’t already. I was shocked when instead of ripping my head off, or telling me I should be grateful, some of my friends cut out the harassment and actually defended me. They’re not perfect, and things still slip through, but it’s no longer at the “I’m the crazy one for not being okay with this.” level.

  17. Yes, the student was being juvenile and offensive, but I don’t believe that this student’s comment constitutes sexual harassment in the legal sense. Maybe your institution is different, but at mine, “sexual harassment” involves behavior that is severe enough, persistent enough or pervasive enough to create a hostile environment or prevent the affected individual from functioning normally. One comment on a student evaluation does not meet this definition, though it might if the student had spoken directly to the instructor. Nor do I believe it is EVER appropriate for an instructor to take students to task over what they write in student evaluations. This will have a chilling effect on those who might want to register legitimate dissatisfaction with the instructor, but are now afraid of being called out, in this or other classes. They can’t necessarily know what is going to set an instructor off. They will think, “if that person’s comment upset her, then mine might too.” The right of the students not to be intimidated in the evaluation process takes precedence over the right of the instructor not to be offended by words written in a student evaluation. After all, the instructor is the one in a position of power, with a captive audience. Scolding students over what they wrote in SEI’s is an abuse of power, not a teachable moment, even if well-intentioned.

    • OH PLEASE. There is a massive gulf between offering legitimate criticism during an evaluation and calling out an inappropriate and sexist comment. Not a single student is going to be too afraid to say criticize the effectiveness of a particular assignment because the professor refused to be bullied by this sexist comment.

      • You are incorrect, Jack. I served as a department chair for three years. I had regular visits from students who were terrified when their instructor made the bad decision to comment on the student evaluations, including addressing comments that they thought were offensive to them personally. Students were simply not equipped to distinguish between so-called “legitimate” and inappropriate comments by the instructor. In every case, they were intimidated by the instructor’s comments– intimidated enough to come to me and complain that they were now afraid to write anything on the evaluations. This WILL have a chilling effect. And as to Acclimatrix’ claim that this meets the definition of sexual harassment everywhere she has taught, I would like to see those definitions. I also worked as a union grievance chair for several years, both with people who were accused of sexual harassment, and with victims. The “severe, persistent, pervasive” language is used as a standard in many public institutions not only for sexual harassment but for other types of discrimination and bullying. One comment on an anonymous student eval does not meet any of those three criteria. Feminism is, in the end, about recognizing power relationships. In this case, power was misused if not abused. Good intentions don’t change that.

        • Doesn’t “this is harassment and bullying” explicitly identify what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate?

          Here are some examples of sexual harassment policies at institutions similar to those with which I have been associated. The language of these statements are nearly identical, because they typically follow federal guidelines:

          University of Michigan, University of Washington, Yale University, and Bennington College.

          In none of these policies is “severe, persistent, or pervasive” the sole criterion of what constitutes sexual harassment.

    • It does, in fact, constitute sexual harassment based on the institutional, state, and federal guidelines at every single academic institution I have worked at in the United States, each in different states.

      Learning what is an is not appropriate for an academic or professional setting is a life skill. Students have access to and are held accountable to the same standards of conduct as faculty and staff. I think GracieABD was pretty clear about -what- was wrong about this comment, and she did so professionally and without calling a student by name.

      Students don’t get carte blanche to make racist, sexist, or otherwise offensive statements. It wasn’t a helpful evaluation comment. If they had something constructive to say, they should have said it. If not, they were under no obligation to write anything. Full stop.

      • It is a real stretch to say this violates a sexual harassment policy, and it is obvious that this does not violate any such policy to the extent that the person who made the comment, if found, would suffer any consequence beyond being spoken to.

        • Regardless of whether it violates a particular institution’s harassment policy, it was an offensive, sexist statement that did not belong in the classroom. And GracieABD made that clear and in doing so made the world at least a teeny bit better for women.

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  19. Gracieabd took the time to point out that the responses were anonymous and went so far as to refer to the respondent as him/her. I applaud gracieabd for the action she took and for sharing it with us. A wonderful teaching moment for her class and for us. I hope those of you who assumed that the respondent was male take a moment to reflect on your own stereotyping. Odds are that you are right but I think you didn’t completely get the lesson.

  20. If someone has already made this comment please disregard.

    Do not feed the trolls. I do not condone this student’s actions, they are WRONG.

    I believe addressing them in the manner presented was a an over reaction. I wonder what your reaction will be once you’ve been teaching for ten years?

    Choosing to address the topic prior to a test strikes me as power play, also bullying.

    That being said you strike me as dedicated and extremely caring, please stay that way even after you have acquired more experience.

  21. Bravo to you! You handled this with grace and aplomb. I will never know what it is like to be objectivized like you, but know that there is at least one man who stands in your corner and holds your values dear.

  22. Why would a woman go to so much trouble to make their self look attractive but then be offended that someone thought they were attractive?

    Does this teacher wear makeup and wear clothes that are in style and flattering?

    Im not condoning the students behavior but I’ve never understood this. If you don’t want people to find you attractive then why make yourself attractive?

    • I’m letting your comment through the ban filter on the off-chance that this is an honest question, and there’s an opportunity for you to learn something. Here’s the short answer: 1) There’s a big difference between finding someone attractive and actively treating them like a sex object. 2) Women don’t necessarily dress up for men. We dress up for ourselves, for each other, for our lovers. 3) “Teach naked” is not constructive criticism, and it has nothing to do with whether someone finds someone attractive or not. As GracieABD said, it’s an intimidation tactic at worst, or blatant disrespect for authority at best.

  23. So you found one comment out of 168 evaluations, where none of them but the one had a borderline sexist comment, and you took that to mean SOME in your class thought of you that way?

    No, not SOME. ONE. ONE person thought of you that way. That means 167 appreciated your knowledge, and for you being you, and 1 student thought it would be funny to write that. How is it that you can take that ONE comment, from ONE student, and use it to mean SOME? SOME denotes more than one, so it doesn’t even make sense grammatically.

    Anyway. If I could give you some advice: instead of making a mountain out of a molehill, take heart in that the majority of your students (but the one) appreciate your work and your teaching. That should cheer you up.

    • Definition fail. SOME: “being an unknown, undetermined, or unspecified unit or thing ,” “being at least one.” A quick peek in the dictionary might have prevented you from posting your embarrassingly wrong, mansplainy “advice.”
      The irony of you dismissing the sexist comment as a “molehill” while affecting two paragraphs of overwrought pearl-clutching over the (incorrect) definition of “some” is exquisite. Ecce MRA.

    • The way I read this post is that it is a story about stopping worse behaviours happening in the future, and it was a brilliant way to to that. That is really the only important point. And the evidence that Gracie gives, is that the class took note of that and many people were empowered to ensure (hopefully to ensure) that the anonymous student (him or her) AND others in the class will not progress to any further types of harassment of anyone else (woman or man or minority group). THAT is the reason for the post.

      Sometimes molehills are molehills. Sometimes they are like ants nests in desert areas of the world – they can grow extremely large.

  24. Pingback: What I’m Reading – September 2 2013 – ASK Musings

  25. Congratulations on finding the perfect response to this harassment, and for naming it for what it was. I think you handled the situation beautifully, Everyone involved — including yourself and other educators — learned a valuable and poignant lesson from this. I hope its “ripple effect” is viral.

  26. “teaching naked” means teaching without relying on technology, a definition that makes absolutely perfect sense in the context of the question.

    • This has been addressed elsewhere. 1) You don’t know that for sure, unless you’re the person who made the comment. 2)GracieABD has put the comment in context. 3) You’re assuming she was using technology in the classroom. As she stated in Part 2, she has a degree in education, and pedagogy is one of her interests.

      • Thanks @acclimatrix. I was tempted to say ‘next time read the discussion first’, but that would be extremely impolite, so I didn’t say it and I’m glad you came in with a more polite reply.

      • still having trouble finding where this was addressed… 1) ok, so i should have wrote “CAN ALSO mean teaching without relying on technology”. 2) yes, she did put it in context and the alternative definition fits the context. 3) no, i’m not. i simply shared the definition that came up when i searched for this phrase.

        i find it really interesting that not only is “teach naked” a thing but it also makes a lot of sense in the context of the question to which it was an answer. it would not unreasonable to assume that someone with an educational background would be familiar with this pedagogical concept. is it just a coincidence? no one but the person who wrote the offending comment knows exactly what they meant!

        • @ next time google it, try this to find previous discussion, if you are still interested in what others have to say: click ‘older comments’ and start with the post by Daniel Ebbole
          August 26, 2013 at 10:55 pm and read the extensive discussions that follow, plus some others who make the same point (presumably having not read the discussion first, or not thought to click ‘older comments’). And each time it has been mentioned, it has been discussed by others – including GracieABD herself. Pros and cons have already been proposed – and as @Acclimatix mentioned, it was addressed again by Gracie herself in part 2 of this posting.

  27. I’ve notice in the comments above that some have made a blanket assumption that this doesn’t happen to men. I’ve been a (male) college professor for 18 years, and I have received numerous overt sexual advances from female students (e.g., offers to perform sex acts, lewd photos emailed to me, off-handed comments in class, and measures of my “hotness” on ratemyprofessors.com), albeit usually after the semester was over. I realize this is a little different, since the student in your case is anonymous, and the semester is on-going, but the point is that it does happen both ways. I used to talk a fair amount in class about my personal life, so my students could get to know me, and feel a little more at ease with me, but I don’t talk about certain things anymore. In fact, I make it quite clear that I am taken, to help avoid these things happening in the future. To be honest, it’s something I never even considered, until it happened. (I was married when I began teaching, and the advances started after it got out that I was getting divorced) So when I got hit on, I was a little floored, albeit naively, never considering that students think about those kinds of things about their professors. So yes, it does happen to men. I’m not sure if it happens more frequently to one or the other (I’m assuming more to women, but I don’t know this), but it does happen.

    With that said, I take exception to your statement that you were objectified because you are a woman. You’re making an assumption here. There are a multitiude of reasons why this would happen, and being a female is but one of them.

    • Women are disproportionately affected by these kinds of remarks. There is substantial data to back this up. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen to men, too, but it doesn’t contribute to the same culture of violence against women or professional attrition that it does to women. That’s the topic of this post, and this blog.

      • Of course men being objectified doesn’t contribute to violence against women – we’re not women. But my point is that the OP assumes that she was because she is a woman. There’s no evidence here of the intent of the student’s comments. Quote: “None of my work, achievements, or intentions matter to people like that—just because I’m a woman, an object.” Shes drawing conclusions without evidence. That’s my point. We don’t know why the student made that statement. We don’t even know if the student is a man or a woman. The only thing we know is that it shouldn’t have happened in the first place.

        • Women face endless small and large harassments and discriminations because they are women. It doesn’t matter what the student’s intention was – it matters that we’ve created an environment where Gracie’s emotional response to and interpretation of their statement is entirely reasonable. Context matters and the student should know that statements like that are (like you said) inappropriate no matter what the gender of their target, but also that the meaning of those statements changes based on who they’re directed at.

  28. I haven’t read through all of the comments, but I feel a need to point this out: There is a heterosexist assumption by this professor that the author of the comment was male, and not female. That heterosexist assumption is perpetuated by a failure of the author, in all her considered preparation of her comments to her class to exhort her students to consider their “mother, sister or eventually their daughters” without also considering their “father, brother, or eventually their sons.” I wonder if her sense of outrage would have been the same had she been an instructor at a women’s college. I hope it would. And finally, the teachable moment to the class was an excellent approach. It provided the offender and (if they exist) his or her cohorts to consider the implications of their actions, regardless of intent. However, I do kind of feel that one comment by one student on one evaluation during one term does not the subject of an article make, unless it was placed in the context of a well-researched pattern of harrassment demonstrated on that campus. She has, of course, the right to free speech, as does the article’s author. I just want to believe it was well-written and broad and not just a matter of speculation and assumption based on the gender composition of the college.

    • Michael, you raise a great point about heteronormativity in these situations, but: GracieABD did take care to refer to the student as “him” or “her,” and did not make any assumptions about the gender or sexuality of the student. As for the exhortation about mothers/daughters/sisters, my understanding is that this was because the comment was directed towards her as a woman.

  29. I agree!
    As a teacher in the UK I too have experienced this sort of behaviour in every school I’ve taught at and in my first school, I had a boy offer to “fuck” me in the cupboard because he could, “teach” me some tricks. He went unpunished despite there being 2 other adults in the room. I also had a boy, from the same class, take video footage of me on his phone and the school again, failed to intervene, luckily, after a lot of soul searching, I dared to inform his father who was aghast and not only made him delete everything but publicly apologise.

    In fact, after 5 years of teaching, I no longer want to do it because of how depressing I find the lack of moral expectations set by most leadership teams. Sometimes it’s the loneliest job in the world. Even more so, if you’re female!

    Also, I don’t mean to imply all schools were as bad as the first, or that I haven’t found many boys a joy to teach! The blog struck a nerve is all, i wanted to show, like I’m sure many of the other commentors fo, you’re not alone, not even slightly.

  30. Pingback: Unblurred Lines | One Good Dose

  31. Boy here… (well, 59 and male.)

    Just wanted to applaud your approach, which I think was probably as good a thing as you taught that semester. If your job is vanquishing ignorance via your actions in the classroom, you simply adjusted your narrow subject definition a little.

    Kids, adults who haven’t progressed much, boys and girls alike, are not highly developed critters. Where do they go for models? Their parents are divorced or never married. Most of society has dismal family skills. Sex is a huge part of modern culture, and the internet gives us access into voyeurism that was unimaginable in the 1960’s. Boys, in particular, grow up with an object oriented view of girls, and girls, if you will but visit reddit / gonewild are certainly complicit in promulgating objectification.

    It’s an uphill battle to help promote civilized behavior. We idolize sexual miscreants in America. I feel your pain, but do not for a minute (as a man) pretend to know how really painful it must be as a professional woman. I do know that as a fellow with 4 sisters and a married twice widower, and a man whose best friend in high school was a girl, that I have tried to always segregate the sexuality aspects of all people from their value to me as friends. It can be done. I’ve done it in my professional life, too. There are enlightened people out here. We got here because brave women called us when we offended them, and forced us to regard them with respect.

    So, here’s some respect for you. Thanks for giving 30 kids (and probably 15 boys) something to think about. It will stick and hopefully, grow.

    I am sorry this is an issue. Humanity take soooooo long to evolve.

  32. To tell you the truth, if I read that comment it would make me laugh. In fact, I’d expect at least one or two sarcastic remarks. I might have addressed it during the next session but my approach would have been different. I’d probably say something like “So my stuff is so boring I need to be naked to keep your attention?” (Or something to that effect.)

    But you have the right to your feelings and to your responses.

  33. Pingback: “Bitches and Drinks”: What I Overheard at Frosh Week at UBC | Lucia Lorenzi

  34. Oh my gosh, it is sooo nice to hear a woman with a job which allows her to make an impression on others, who is using it to not shrivel away from gender issues but stand up for herself. Hell – it’s nice to hear in general!
    I know too many people who brush it under the rug and just take the treatment. It’s nice to know there are other people out there who consider standing up for themselves not to be the same thing as overreacting. Please continue to be you. The world needs more ‘you’s’. 😀

  35. So as a gay man, I can imagine writing this comment anonymously about a hot male professor. And you are saying this would “constitute sexual harassment, which is a form of bullying, and like any bully, you are a coward. An adult would own up to it and face the consequences.” Correct?

    If I got this comment on an anonymous form at the end of semester – from one of a bunch of restless, hormonally raging young adults – my reaction would be to grin and be flattered. But I get that that is just my opinion.

    I’m trying to understand, but I’m having a really difficult time wrapping my mind around your take on this.

      • Thanks for the link. So if I wrote the aforementioned anonymous comment, in response to the aforementioned Hot Male Prof’s evaluation form, I would be acting benevolently sexist?

        As a side note, if I knew that writing such a comment would ruin Hot Male Prof’s day, of course I wouldn’t write it as a matter of basic decency.

        On thinking about it a bit more, I would agree that the comment was rude, inappropriate, and disrespectful of the teacher-student relationship. But I could imagine an informal teacher-class discussion group situation where it would just be a bawdy comment.

  36. Funny … I clicked on your topic because I thought it was going to be about the need for transparency in our professional lives as educators. I have avoided blogging because it made me feel too exposed, too … naked.

  37. I read both parts. As a male Associate Professor who has been at one institution for five years and a second for 23, I have never had to go through what you described. As described, I would consider the situation to be sexual harassment. As a professor of education, I have had an experience with bullying where two people intimidated the entire class into going along with a lie about a verbally given assignment. Finally one of those being intimidated came to me in confidence and revealed what was going on. I told my department chair and dean what was going on. This is how I handled it. As a final examination, I had the students bring their notes to use as a reference. I also had a colleague come with me to act as an observer/witness. I told the students to get out their notes and pass them to the end of the row where my colleague collected them. Then, I read the famous quote from Pastor Martin Niemoller (http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007392). I explained that I knew about the conspiracy of silence and the two who were behind it. Their final examination (which was written in bluebooks and collected) was to explain their behavior in light of the quote. The assignment that I had given was in more than 80% of the students’ notes.

    What you did was right. It took courage. It was proportionate. I commend you for thinking it through and taking constructive action. While this may have downstream ripples for you, I believe that the ability to look at yourself in the mirror and to be at peace with the person looking back is worth the ripples that you may experience. Stand tall and confident in your thinking and your actions. It took heart that many, sadly, lack.

  38. My only regret is that your class speech wasn’t captured on video, put up on You Tube, and sent viral. It is brilliant, succinct, and–I’m gonna disagree with you, here–nicely accusatory. It needed to be. The word “coward” gets a young man’s attention like no other and it was quite apropos. Without it, the speech would have sounded like a mildly frustrated remonstration. With it, the speech says, “I can see you, you are in my sights, I know the truth about you.” They don’t need to see a gun to feel the trigger being squeezed: same effect. Happy hunting.

  39. Ma’am, You are exceptionally brave to have done this… Hats off..!! Wish you could be an inspiration to people, regardless of gender, here in the society I live in… Women are actually seen as nothing but temptous objects, as if they don’t have any humane existence at all… And being a boy, I’ve seen this at quite close quarters and this has always disturbed me… Once again loved your spirit and guts..

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