Teaching Naked, Part 2

In my previous post, I recounted how a student interviewed me for the school paper regarding my decision to confront my class about being sexual harassed by one of my students on a mid-semester evaluation.  To give a little context for this post, my article was featured on the front page along with an article about a male faculty member (from the same college, and thus, the same dean) who was suing the university over sexual orientation discrimination and wrongful termination.  Neither my mentor nor the dean in this anecdote had authority over me; my bosses were in the provost office.

After the article was published, the dean of my college was clearly not happy I chose to share my experience publicly.  She immediately emailed my (male) mentor, copying me on the email, and demanded that he set up a meeting for the three of us ASAP; he set up the meeting for the following morning.  In the meantime (I learned after the fact), they had met and discussed the article for hours without me, and without attempting to understand the context from which this article stemmed.  For example, they assumed I spoke about sexual harassment for the entire class period.

The dean began our morning meeting by asking me to explain what happened.  She listened politely and when I finished she claimed that the incident did not constitute sexual harassment, or bullying, because sexual harassment (or bullying) cannot occur if the person perpetrating the act is not in a position of authority.  While I understand the legal concerns of the university, I absolutely disagree.  By this logic, my students can make sexual comments to each other or to faculty without them being considered harassment. Better yet, I could technically make sexual comments to the dean or to the chancellor without actually sexually harassing them because I have no authority over them.  Besides, definition of harassment is not legally true anyway.

Next, the dean segued into describing the difference between fondling and rape, indicating that what happened to me was minor.  I am not sure where this came from—I never accused anyone of sexual assault.  Sexual harassment is not the same thing as sexual assault.  I felt that she was implying that what happened to me was so minor that I really shouldn’t have made that big of deal out of it, i.e., I was being unreasonable and a big baby.  The dean followed by saying that it was “just a juvenile comment,” and that all teachers get rude comments in evaluations.  I reveled that I, too, receive plenty of rude comments, e.g. “sometimes you sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher,” so it isn’t just a function of having a thicker skin.  This comment was different and crossed a line.

Next, the dean mentioned that “educational programs don’t really teach classroom management,” implying that the situation would have been averted had I known how to manage my classroom.  I interjected by saying, “You’re right, I received no formal training in either my master’s or my doctoral programs with respect to classroom management, but I have a bachelor’s degree in broadfield science education, which amply covered classroom-management techniques.”   That shut down this line of attack pretty quickly.

As annoyed as I was to have my mentor in the room with me, I was thankful that he was there as a witness.  He was very supportive of my teaching abilities and knowledge of gender issues during the whole meeting.  He pointed out that my knowledge of gender issues is part of the reason they hired me—to increase faculty diversity.  (The student gender balance at this school is 30:70 female to male, and the faculty ratio isn’t much better.)

At some point, my mentor interjected that we should talk about one of my quotes in the paper, “This is the most sexist campus I’ve been on.”  The dean said that she was unaware that sexism was a problem on campus and in the community because she had never experienced it.  She went on to explain: “Well, I don’t look like you do, so I’m sure I don’t get this as frequently.  Again, this is a juvenile comment and you should just learn to ignore it.”  At this point, I was mad and dismayed.  As if my looks justify this sort of behavior.  Where, then, is the line that constitutes harassment?  My mentor pointed out that her line of reasoning was flawed because she’s the dean and people act differently around her because she holds a position of power, and also that she’s not exposed to the same experiences as teachers.  Instead of acknowledging this, she instead offered up the following analogy.  “I grew up in Chicago, and I used to get comments like that on the bus all the time.  I just learned to ignore it.  A few times, I got felt up, but then I yelled at the person.”  Again, I feel like her message is basically so as long as you don’t get assaulted, stop being a baby.

She finished by telling me she wanted to make sure I felt supported.  I did not feel comfortable responding to her after she spent the last 25 minutes attacking me and attempting every way possible to delegitimize my experience.  She has more authority and power on this campus than I do, and although I understand she is not in my chain of command, she likely has influence on those who are.  For that reason, I chose to refrain from rebutting her arguments after the first 10 minutes—her mind was made up, and arguing would only prolong the meeting.

I got back to my office to find several emails from both male and female faculty and staff.  Several more faculty and staff stopped by my office to briefly chat about the article.  The male responses were supportive and apologetic that I had to endure the sexual harassment.  Several men even mentioned that they are trying to bring their boys up to be more respectful of women.  With the exception of the police chief, the male responses also seemed to imply, or explicitly state, that this was an isolated incidence.  The female responses, however, were supportive from a solidarity standpoint.  They shared their own similar experiences of being sexually harassed, including via evaluations (for faculty), and congratulated me for having stood up for myself.  Many of them wished they had done what I did instead of ignoring it; going forward, they would use it as a teachable moment like I had.

I also later heard from my male mentor that many male faculty members joked to him about the article.  They didn’t understand how the incident in question constituted sexual harassment, and they believed that I brought it on myself.  These comments from male faculty clearly default to a victim-blaming culture, but they also demonstrate a lack of context for the experience of being a woman within our society, and within academia specifically.  (See also Miller and Chamberlin 2000; Lester 2011; and here).

A picture of a hand-written written student evaluation where a student writes that they were inspired by the professor's handling in-class sexual harassment and decided to become a certified sexual harassment reporter.

A student shares their thoughts about the events that transpired in their end-of-the-year evaluation.

Despite this experience, I don’t regret my decision to use the incident as a teachable moment for the class, and to talk about it publicly through the school paper.  The audiences of these forums only heard the message I shared, not the administrative response to it.  I know I made a difference in some of my students’ lives.  At the end of the semester, I got several responses on my evaluations specifically mentioning how my confronting the class affected them.  I did the right thing.

The remaining big question I have is: Was this administrative response an isolated incident?  Have I been protected from gender discrimination while a student, but as faculty am I now exposed to the ‘real’ world?  If I choose to attempt a career as a faculty member of a smaller-sized school, am I likely to find accusatory and unsupportive administration?  It’s not like I plan to make discussing sexual harassment a goal for every earth science class I teach. (Although, based on my students’ responses, it wouldn’t be a bad idea either!)  Was I just unlucky in my first experience as a faculty member?


References cited:
Miller, J., & Chamberlin, M. (2000). Women are teachers, men are professors: A study of student perceptions. Teaching Sociology, 283-298.

Lester, J. (2011). Regulating Gender Performances: Power and Gender Norms in Faculty Work. NASPA Journal About Women in Higher Education, 4(2), 142-169.

110 thoughts on “Teaching Naked, Part 2

  1. Both parts of your post are so important, the first piece is incredibly inspiring. But the second piece feels more urgent in terms of equality. You were brave enough to make being harassed a teachable moment for your students, and eventually for the campus at large through the article. To be unsupported, and in fact chastised by administration illustrates how far women have to come in academia. You were simply victimized a second time. Thank you for writing about it. And I’m sorry you had to deal with it.

  2. Unfortunately, the reality of most management structures is that they have one cognitive box marked “trouble” and in it goes anything that generates phone calls and work for them. An employee that is not doing their job. An employee that goes above and beyond to do what’s right. An employee who is a harasser and/or a bully. An employee who confronts a harasser or a bully.

    It took me longer than it should to realize that they simply don’t care who’s wrong or right, who generated the problem and who confronted the problem. They don’t like it. They dream of having a bunch of employees they never hear about from one year to the next.

    I don’t know what to suggest. I fight this fight myself. What I learned is really to avoid all unnecessary antagonism and conflict. Then, hopefully, when you “get caught doing something right” as in this case, there’s less chance you will lose your job or damage your career prospects severely. But don’t ever rely or trying to make them understand that you were right and did the right thing. It doesn’t help. Sometimes it hurts you, because the people in charge got there by not pissing anybody off, and if you represent yourself as someone too principled to play the game they played to get where they are, they will go away feeling judged for the compromises they have made, which will anger them further.

  3. First let me say that I agree with you 100% on everything you have discussed in these two parts regarding sexual harassment.

    Here comes the However…. When I read the part about “Teach Naked”. I thought of it not in the physical way of strip down to nada and stand in your birthday suit kind of teach kind of naked…. but more of maybe you were adding too much “fluff” in order to get the point across. They were asking for you to strip the facts down to the “naked” bones of the matter. It is just the way I read it. Granted, if that was their intent then it left much to interpretation, and CLEARLY it was taken in a sexual way.

    I do however, applaud you for making this a teachable moment for your students. You handled it with grace and courage.

    • Transcription of the student’s comment:

      I really admire your courage and strength after what happened in this class regarding your sexual harrassment. I have had **** as an instructor and will have her again next semester – what happened to you has inspired me to become a certified sexual harrassment instructor and try to get a mandatory class implimented here.

    • I think you really have to be stretching to give it that interpretation, but I suppose it could hypothetically be true. Somewhere.

    • Come on. We all know what the student meant by that comment. Few, if any, undergraduates would use such a metaphor to ask the teacher to cut out fluff. I don’t think anyone would ever leave the comment at “teach naked” without any explanation if it was about getting to the “naked bones of the matter.”

    • The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

      Even if the message was written with such an innocent meaning, 1) I find it cowardly that they didn’t approach her later, in private/email/on an anonymous post-it, to explain the original message and apologize for offending her, and, 2) What kind of idiot, actually enrolled in college and residing in the sex-crazed U.S. of A., doesn’t know that an anonymous instruction to ‘teach naked’ is going to be interpreted as degrading?

      I think it’s too much to hope, too much wishful thinking, to even consider that comment coming from the new-age type of thinking, unfortunately.

      • I agree it was cowardice to not come forward and apologize. Regardless of the meaning.

        I was only trying to offer another view point on the statement. In reality, it very well may have been a sexual statement. I think she handled it with grace and I commend her for that.

        • She definitely handled it with grace and aplomb.

          I think what’s most frustrating is that like you, when I saw the original post I assumed a non-offensive meaning. “Teach Naked,” well that must be an interesting piece on teaching without bias or preconceived notions, something like that. And then I felt tricked and naive! Because of course I live in a world where 99.9% of the time it will be meant in the sexually harassing way.

          It’s too bad because there really is a movement to “teach naked,” by getting rid of technology on campuses. NPR did a piece on it and that’s their actual phrasing.

  4. Deansplaining sexual harassment for the loss.

    I’m sorry that this happened, and that people in power dismissed your experience in this way. Seems like there is a genuine lack of empathy at play when people dismiss the experiences of others just because they themselves have not encountered something similar. (And wtf was with the snarky comment trying to qualify that lack of experience?)

    I still think you handled the situation in the classroom brilliantly. It seems to me that the powers that be missed out their opportunity for a teachable moment.

    • In case you missed the transcription (@sarcozona transcribed it but it seems to be misplaced): it’s posted a few comments up from here, in response to a comment by @kimberlymringer

  5. It is devastating when superiors don’t support you – not only ‘not support’ but in this case trying to put you down. You were very brave to remain strong, and at least you can sleep at night knowing you did the right thing and influenced others to be strong.

    It shows that it is more important than you realised to have consented to the interview on the student paper, despite the emotional cost to yourself. I hope this wider electronic support somewhat makes up for the support you didn;t get (seems like your mentor was on your side, though)..

  6. Further to the above, this discussion started with the appropriate dealing of an unsavoury incident, but I feel it has now highlighted a wider issue of lack of support for University staff. I am in a different country, and was in a different type of institution, but during my (many) years as an academic I noticed a common threat among those colleagues I communicated with all over the world – the Universities seem to be run for the benefit of various administrative structures, and the support of those ‘at the coal face’ who are looking after what SHOULD be the primary clients (undergrad and postgrad students) are just being made to feel like square pegs in round holes. And the holes seemed to be becoming smaller and smaller during the later years of my employment; I felt I was being sqeezed into structures and timelines that suited the admin; and this was 100% supported by my supervisors. The individuals and their skills were being stifled – though the slight eccentricity and particular skills were what the individual had been employed for in the first place.

    There is evidence for this – I don’t remember the URLs, but if you search for proportions of academics, casual TA staff and admin staff at Universities all over the world you will see an ongoing trend to more admin/support staff and more casuals.

    Continual frustration at these things – the type of incident mentioned by @Gracie, whatever the underlying cause – and a knowledge that it was not just my Institution but was common among others at other places – was the reason i took an opportunity that arose for early retirement. I was fortunate to be able to do this when it all got too much – the environment that had been my succour and support and social/professional network, which I had loved and thrived in, had turned sour. Perhaps it was not yet toxic, but I was worried it would become so. And it was mostly because of lack of respect for and care of those who are mostly responsible for making a University viable.

    Is this the next challenge? Reclaim the Institution for the students and academic staff????? Or are the authorities worried that this will be the inmates taking over the asylum? (Apologies for the non-politically-correct old fashioned terminology, but I think it is apt here).

    • whoops …”NOT” the support of those at the coal face…. sorry, didn’t take my own advice about reading aloud before publishing.

  7. Your dean not only needs a reminder of what legally constitutes sexual harassment, but needs to see the many emails you got, especially the ones from teachers who’ve been in your position. Maybe that’ll put things in perspective. Though it’s highly unlikely. After all, colleges are notorious for wanting to believe this sort of stuff doesn’t happen and doing everything they can to maintain the illusion.

  8. You know what is fantastic about this TSW blog? All the young go-getter women are so positive about what they are posting. Even if they are talking about an ‘issue’ such as this particular posting, they are reporting pro-active ways of solving their situation. This is emphasised by the robustness and general thoughtfulness of the comments, plus the number of ‘re-blogs’ to other places.

    It is a new blog, pointed out to me by a young scientists friend who knows i like associating with young people and sometimes poke in my older nose. I’m glad she showed it to me. It has already made a difference to me, and I’m sure a bigger difference to others – even just knowing we are not alone.

    So, I agree with @rami, yes, the Dean ‘needs’ this and that. So what practical ways can people who feel like underlings in these situations ensure that the things that ‘need’ doing get done? How can we/you/they find a way that people who ‘need’ to know another viewpoint actually get that viewpoint through their skulls?

    @Gracie pointed out that she realised during the interview that the Dean wasn’t going to change her opinion. And as I said above, there is a growing culture of not supporting/nurturing those very people who are seminal to the workings of the Academy.

    What have others done/intend to do/ think that could be done? We can wring our hands all we like, but that is not what has happened so far on this blog.


  9. I work in law enforcement and every year it feels like they force us to take a refresher course of sexual harassment because it is an issue that people always undermine and write off. i think you were right on and the dean was simply trying to make a lesser problem of an issue that needs correcting right away. you were correct in your logic and the dean was not. what was said to you, whether serious or not, was inappropriate and uncalled for it is the dean’s responsibility to make sure those issues are dealt with, not passively-aggresively scolding you for something that clearly was not your fault. Bravo!

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  11. Holy Crap!

    I read your part one and in truth a lot of people may think it’s about getting thicker skin and letting things roll off your back. In truth some things get under your skin so much that you can’t let them go. There are levels of sexual harassment and I guess some of your peers and the dean herself didn’t seem to understand that and any level is inappropriate.

    In context (well the parts of the evaluation you were able to share) I don’t think your student was being serious, he or she was joking around. But the joke was inappropriate and he or she was a jackass for making it.

    Your student should have known better and they did cross the line. And regardless of how far they crossed the line the dean should have understood that and acknowledged that fact. Even though students and faculty are highly educated, sometimes they lack common sense.

    The article brought light to the subject and some people may not have agreed with how you handled it, but that’s what happens when things get published in the paper. Some may say you were too sensitive, others cheer you on. The good thing is that you inspired a discussion in the school about a topic that may be uncomfortable for many, but is necessary for the growth and maturity of the campus, especially for jackasses who make inappropriate gestures.

  12. I’m continually disturbed at how many people disregard the impact language has on others. It’s as if it doesn’t count as sexual harassment until we’ve reached the point of physical molestation. Shouldn’t we try to stop it before it reaches that point by setting clear standards for what is & isn’t acceptable behavior? I liked how you told your students in the previous part that if they wouldn’t want someone else to say it to their mom/sister/daughter then they shouldn’t say it themselves. It makes it more personal than just talking about “random chicks.”

    No one should ever be told to just “deal with it” when they feel harassed or oppressed. I shouldn’t have to put up with this sort of behavior as if it’s a natural part of being female. Not only does it imply horrible things that part of being a woman is to be viewed as little more than a piece of meat for others to ogle at, but it also implies that men have no control over their actions when women are involved. All people deserved to be treated with respect. And we shouldn’t justify these sorts of things as “boys being boys” or “juvenile.” What might happen if this isn’t stopped? Might it progress into something worse? I can’t help but wonder if the kids in your class had ever been told that wasn’t an appropriate thing to say.

  13. I was so interested in part two of this story, I really wondered what the aftermath would entail. As I read it, I became more and more angry. I felt as though I was sitting in a chair next to you and experiencing the frustration firsthand. I suppose I relate because I’ve had similar instances where I had to answer to, or endure, moronic responses to important points. Some may prefer to call the dean’s response as ignorance, but I view that as willful ignorance, especially in a realm that is supposedly higher education.

    I applaud your courage, and the simple fact that you’ve chosen to do right over easy.

    • hear hear… but ‘wilful’ in the sense of denial, I think – not wanting to admit that it happened, or that the authority figure needs to deal with it.

  14. I really appreciate your response to the situation. I remember back a long time ago, when I was a young man in college with asperger’s, no friends and little confidence. I made a flippant remark not unsimilar the the one in your story to try and impress some of the guys around me. I immediately saw the effect it had on her – she reddened and shrunk like a wilting flower, almost running out of the room. While the boys around me laughed, I felt tremendous guilt inside which only got worse as the days went by. I approached her a few days later, while she was with a group of friends, and apologized. She did not accept it, humiliated me in front of her friends, but I knew I deserved it so I took it stoically and moved on, resolving to never say that sort of thing again. I’ve certainly said stupid things since then, but never anything where I’ve intended to hurt the other person. I regret my words; however, I view them, and the backlash, as necessary for my growth as a human being.

    I am now the father of three boys who is desperately trying to raise them to be respectful of the feelings of others, especially those who aren’t like them. My oldest son also has asperger’s and is now in college himself. Last year, he was approached by a very drunk frat boy who called him gay and mockingly propositioned him, and then punched him (my son is not gay, but he is overweight, quiet and brilliant). That boy was kicked out of school, but it’s ignited something in my son that has made him a staunch feminist since; knowing what it’s like to be a victim gives you a heart for other victims.

    My other two sons are different. I hope that they listen to my words but society is so strong working against them. They may have to learn their lesson the same way I did. I am grateful for women like you who are vocal about their feelings and use incidents like these as a teaching moment. Sometimes, we only learn by screwing up.

    • Chris,
      You sound like a great father and a standup guy. I may have AS but I have a history of verbal diarrhea I’ve regretted and also learned from. Luckily for me the thoughts better left unspoken have tailed off.

    • Chris, thank you for sharing your comment and story. I think you perfectly understand my intentions in addressing this situation publicly. Everyone makes mistakes, malicious or not, but these mistakes can be used to create positive learning experiences.

  15. Unfortunately this kind of behavior is reinforced through secondary systems outside the institution; “ratemyprofessor” includes a check-box marked “hot”, for example.

    The student who made the original remark was almost certainly more engaged in mocking the class evaluation process than in specifically addressing you (although the nature of the remark is very obviously predicated on your gender). Every year when it’s time to fill in those eval. forms my students start to groan and complain; they fill in variants of the same forms over and over — and because none of them ever take the same class again, they have no way of knowing that their comments are actually read by anyone. It’s a system which encourages cynical detachment. Couple that with the testosterone surges of young men in college, and it’s a mess. Which you handled perfectly, IMO. Whoever the individual was, he’s not going to forget it anytime soon.

    In my institution, evaluation comments are not read by the faculty, but by department staff, who then summarize it before passing it on to us. A remark like that would have been trapped by the filter. I’m not sure whether that constitutes an improvement or not.

    • It can help to report at the start of class (or the start of the class where you take evaluations) on the improvements you’ve made to your course based on the previous round of feedback. This helps students to see the impact and immediacy of their contributions.

  16. As appalling as sexual harassment is, the institutionalized belittling and protection of such behaviour is even worse. The dean ought to be more ashamed than the (anonymous) student.

  17. It’s hard to judge how appropriate the dean’s response was without seeing the interview that you gave. Do you have a link?

  18. Wow, Not only have you now been harassed by your students but by someone in the administration as well. Talk about a “hostile work environment”. I didn’t see anyone else comment on it, so I want to say that I think you should take this further. I know you’re on the tenure track and want to keep your head down, but this might be worth fighting for. You have documentation of a culture of sexual harassment on the campus that is perpetuated by the administration. I’m not sure the safest way to go about it, but if I were you, I would investigate doing more. Good Luck and I’m sorry.

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  20. You are right in pretty much every respect here, and your experience with administration sounds awful.
    But in retrospect, while doing the interview was a good idea, don’t you think giving a quote like “This is the most sexist campus I’ve been on” to the school newspaper was unwise?

  21. This second part has left me really wondering…

    The whole trying to define Sexual Harassment as something only to do with authorative power in the organisational structure is frankly so unbelievably naive I cannot comprehend it.

    It was harassment in my book. Interestingly I’ve looked at three definitions both Wikipedia and Dictionary.com imply that it is related to career where as I prefer the Collins definition on-line that is “the persistent unwelcome directing of sexual remarks and looks, and unnecessary physical contact at a person, usually a woman, esp in the workplace”

    It was an unwelcome sexual remark – ergo harassment.

    How you dealt with it was by dint of the feedback you received before and after the article was an excellent example to many others.

  22. I am a man and have never been exposed to sexual harassment directly, but I’ve seen first hand through my beautiful wife rather extreme cases of sexual harassment that I simply would not have believed if I didn’t know my wife. Sexual harassment is a big deal. I’m a strong advocate of acknowledging that and a strong advocate of disciplining offenders and protecting women’s rights in those cases. This case isn’t that type of serious sexual harassment. The author sounds like a great professor and a great person and shouldn’t let a student with a bad attitude ruin her day, but the sexual harassment aspect of this story is exaggerated. The teacher is the authority and should not let an anonymous insult, even a sexual one, undermine her authority over a subordinate student. For the lazy anonymous comment described, the teacher should ignore it. For a more serious insult, or one done publically, or one that is repeated, the teacher should have the student disciplined, keep control over the situation, and not let it bother her.

  23. I’m really glad I took the time to read these pieces, and I applaud you for being willing to share your story. If more people who care about how others are treated don’t speak up, it’s hard to get things to change.

    I’m very sorry you had to experience that conversation with your dean. She clearly did not understand the point you were making or the reason it needed to be made.

    Keep up the good work. You’ve got plenty of folks behind you.

  24. Thank you for posting your experiences. As a male, tenured faculty member at a US institution I am privileged enough to have never experienced such vile behavior, but I want to offer my sympathy and support.

    I am not a lawyer, but my understanding of sexual harassment laws – at least in California – is that it is the duty of an employer to ensure the workplace is free of sexual harassment. This has nothing to do with seniority or some stupid food chain of who is doing the harassment. We were given sexual harassment training as managers that said, for example, that actionable harassment in the workplace could even be perpetrated by a non-employee. For example, a delivery van driver could harass a woman at an office where he makes deliveries, and the managers in that office would have to take steps to prevent further harassment once it was reported.

    Anyhow, thank you and good luck. You have done a good thing and your students – women and men – will benefit from it, whether they realize this now or not.

  25. Here’s another example of the rampant sexist culture ubiquitous in college life, this time its the sexual objectification of a professor on ratemyprofessor.com: (this is presumably a moderated site so the comments are not particularly offensive as such, but I’m sure you’ll agree its the overall intent, the culture, and the frequency of the comments (about 1 in 7) that leaves you with a sort of slightly creepy feeling)

    “Still hot for her age, you’ll be more interested in what she says than her beauty”
    “Sweet dresser! Former seminary student turned sex and gender prof! Easy if you pay attention and listen. Hot nerdy girl.”
    “Not as hot as when she was PCC’s young golden girl, but still attractive. Must take part of PCC experience!”
    “My boyfriend was in love with her, which was annoying,”
    “Easily One of the best Professors in PCC. Her lectures are amazing. this class will change your life. And it doesn’t hurt the fact that she’s a beautiful professor!! :)”
    “Don’t be intimidated, her bark is worse than her bite. And she’s kinda cute.”
    “And I’ll admit, she is kinda cute…(weird)”
    ” I became fascinated with history because of this professor–oh ya…and she IS pretty easy on the eyes. :)”
    “At first, I thought I was going to be distracted by her extreme foxiness, piercing blue eyes, and fit build, but I hung on to every word!”
    “She’s a hottie too, guys: fashionable, passionate! Sit in front!”
    “She’s passionate, approachable, the “hot older woman” type;”
    “She is very cute, guys. she’s hella smart and makes history lectures very interesting. going to class was like going to story time. love her confidence; makes her even more attractive 🙂 ”
    that’s 5 pages in, another 18 to go

    And I’m just steaming with indignation at all this rampant sexism and privilege.

    Note the above has been slightly edited to make an important point regarding how some of the rampant sexism in college culture now manifests itself.

  26. I would like to add a caution here to over reading the story. As a male instructor, I vividly remember getting evaluations that mocked my appearance as well, commenting on my weight, my glasses, etc, and not my intelligence, preparation, or skill (or lack thereof). I don’t know how your evals worked, but ours were anonymous, and only through assumption and/or gender stereotyping could one determine whether a given eval was produced by given gender. This concerns me, because a great many of the commenters here seem to “know” it was a male, and ignore the very real problem of same gender reinforcement of negative gender stereotypes. Blathering on about testosterone surges is no way to address the very real issue identified in these twin posts, any more than dismissing this story as the rant of an estrogen-crazed Loonie would be. Thank you.

    • – Don’t be silly. Or subtly worse.
      – So your appearance was addressed without regard to your intellect, ability or efforts. That’s unfortunate. It always is, and it is a common tendency worth battling.
      – But to conflate that experience with the primary sexual objectification women with which women are confronted physically or verbally with varing degrees of “humor,” “high spirits” or blatant objectification is beyond ridiculous. Even if your sexuality had been directly addressed — and I assume you have some understanding of the emotional force behind specifically sexual interchanges of this kind and the ramifications that follow as contrasted to many (but not all) other foci of personal reference — it is an overwhelmingly different experience for a man. In the majority of circumstances it becomes a foil for some sense of greater virility, or merely a passing irritation. If you have no sense that this is a far different issue for women overall (I add overall because I am aware that there can be cases in which sexual comments and actions against vulnerable men become an issue) then you are, in my opinion, really quite lost. And I say this as a man.
      – You do, however, mention the presence here of a “very real issue.” The problem is that your introduction leaves a great deal of doubt as to what, for you, makes this or any related issue “very real.”
      – I will add that I may not understand that I may misunderstand your intent. But I am quite certain that I did not *misread* your statement.

  27. I am very glad you handled this the way that you did. I didn’t read all the comments, so I am not sure if anyone else made this comment. From the business world we are taught that sexual harassment includes ‘hostile work environment’. This means that jokes or comments that make working awkward or uncomfortable are considered harassment regardless of who makes the comment and what authority they have or do not have. I am appalled that your Dean did not know this fact.

  28. Honestly, I initially thought these posts were satires of academic culture and sexual harassment policies. Consider the following:

    – I have completed graduate school and seen tons of inappropriate (and just plain wrong) evaluations from the young and inexperienced semi-children in the courses.
    – I have seen professors form serial relationships with recent students in a very unhealthy fashion.
    – I have worked in private industry and seen how non-academic adult men and women interact in context of the inescapable gender/sexual undercurrent.
    – I have personally faced down a management team that was both ignorant of the law and stubborn in their refusal to change misguided polices.
    – I have seen a woman fired for sexual harassment, which followed complaints to her face, complaints to management, and the direction by management to stop the behavior.

    In this light, the student evaluation under discussion wouldn’t have raised an eyelash or warranted more than 3 seconds of thought. Per the sincere concern shown in the original posts and the reactions of many, should it? Or, does this demonstrate a level of hypersensitivity that results in a non-functional and non-adaptive social response?

    Academics are better qualified than any other group to understand that some people are less capable than others, but this entire discussion demonstrates a lack of…practicality… Simply drive in rush hour traffic and you can see that the world is full of selfish jerks. Watch nature films and see that it’s a cruel eat-or-be-eaten, steal-or-be-stolen-from world. Some percentage of the population knows the supportive rules of the majority but still wants their way; or wants to stir up trouble, get attention, or just make crude jokes.

    My honest advice is to listen to the dean and forget all about slights of this magnitude. You will have hundreds more throughout your life, but YOU will suffer and YOU will dwell on it and it will make YOU feel terrible. Seek perspective by hanging out with a few “ignorant bigoted rebels”–hear what they say about the establishment and academic values in general. Listen to the crude sexist jokes they TELL WITHOUT AWARENESS. Then, please consider alternative responses to this type of event.

    • After reading your comment and a few others like it, I am forced to the conclusion that some of the respondents, regardless of how intelligent and articulate they may be in their presentation, still just don’t get it, and perhaps never will.

      But many others do, and I take heart in that.

    • John: On the contrary, it’s important to confront harassment precisely BECAUSE people do it without awareness. Students are there to learn, so using this as a teachable moment makes perfect sense. Now at least some of them know that thoughtless language really can hurt, and also that it’s possible to call out harassment without turning it into a witch hunt.

      Gracie: Thanks for responding firmly and professionally. I salute you.

    • – You assume the author now suffers, dwells, and fees terrible. I’m really not getting that.
      – You are correct that worse things happen. Much, much worse. But going from there to assuming that only the most grievous instances should be addressed is ridiculous in effect, though I fully understand how a victim of more harmful episodes might sigh at anything falling short of their own experience.
      – But the point here is not about going to war over the words “teach naked.” The point is about a “teachable moment” in a specific circumstance – one in which something quite gentle and yet solid is directed toward specific individuals, some of whom may well be in a position to benefit from it. A possibility – just a possibility – that the next step of disrespect might be taken more cautiously, or even averted.
      – It is admittedly necessary in all things to choose the battles. That does not mean that “little things” should be categorically ignored in all circumstances.

  29. Pingback: What I’m Reading – September 4 2013 – ASK Musings

  30. i have two daughter, a wife, a daughter-in-law and a granddaughter. You are completely in the right. No one, no one, no one can touch you without your express acceptance. I am a male and I do not like to be touched. It is an invasion of one person over another period. Your school has handled it badly. How far does it allow for one to go to far. It should be in the guide rules of the school. No touching period. Consequences are severe. We just seem to wait for the ball to drop and then all hell breaks loose. You have the courage, keep your spirits up.

  31. I understand your anger when the dean said that because of your looks such comments were bound to come….what does it mean? just because you look like you do, you have to take it as it goes and ignore it?
    Look how far we have come by ignoring…no where.
    I admire you for taking a stand against this and initiate building a better society for our daughters.

  32. Adding very little but my support, I thought your decision to treat this as a teachable moment was impressive and right. Bluntly, a lot of us need to learn about this and I hope others will imitate your action so we can.

  33. No, it is not an isolated incident, it goes on all the time. The reason we aren’t aware of it is due to so many women and men who choose to remain silent and “get over it,” as was suggested to you. It’s like an infection that thrives without proper treatment. The proper treatment is precisely what you did, plus making your experiences as public as possible. As I’m sure you’ve heard as a teacher, “One hand in the air represents many more that were too afraid to ask,” so go ahead and put your hand up. You can rest assured you will be representing many more than you know…and they will probably soon join you. Good for you and all who will benefit from your steadfastness.

    The above paragraph applies to both the sexual harassment AND the administrative response to it. Frankly, I think there’s more of the latter out there due to its insidious and socially-reinforced nature. Rock on, Teach.

  34. It seemed to me that the administration didn’t appreciate a professor going on record in the student paper with “This is the most sexist campus I’ve been on.” It is a statement she’d really stand by? What would be her (necessarily anecdotal) evidence? Given such a statement I wonder how she expected the administration to react and “support” her.

  35. Years ago, back when anyone paid any attention to it, I used to browse through RateMyProf to blow off the last hours of a teaching week. It was a stupid exercise in egosurfing, especially consider that, like most online review sites, people are more likely to comment there if they’re pissed off than if they’re happy. Nothing terribly damning in mine, actually, but then, I only had a half-dozen reviews.

    One day I decided to compare myself to my colleagues. Sure enough, most of them had only a half-dozen reviews, too — or, most of my male colleagues. My female colleagues were inundated with hundreds of reviews. The ratio of favorable-to-unfavorable was about the same as my tiny sample size, but what caught my eye immediately was that, for two of my female colleagues, there were dozens and DOZENS of comments from male students referring to them as “MILFs.”

    I sat in my office for almost an hour reading through these comments, and by the end of it I wanted to throw up. I also wanted to rage at someone, but since these were anonymous reviews on an outside website that had nothing to do with campus, I had no one on campus to yell in the direction of. Instead, I tracked down and thoroughly read the user agreement for the site, and then I spend an entire evening flagging and reporting as inappropriate each harassing comment I found.

    I also did the same for the dozen or so comments I found from female students, who, instead of digitally and anonymously hitting on their teacher, were complaining that their teacher was “too hot” and was “distracting all the boys.”

    And then, of course, I told my colleagues about the situation. One of them did as your (clueless) dean suggested: she brushed them all off, assuming it wasn’t that big a deal and there was nothing she could do about it anyway. The other was leaving on sabbatical and was soon to retire anyway, so while she was both horrified and, believe it or not, flattered, she also chose to ignore it.

    I don’t know if they still think about it. But it has certainly stayed with me.

    And PS: This and it’s predecessor are FANTASTIC posts.

    • Thank you for taking the time to flag and report, Samuel. So many people just shrug and walk away, muttering, “It’s not gonna solve anything,” but the actions WILL show up on somebody’s radar. All the actions add up until they are one hell of a big blip on the screen, then somebody says, “Whoa, looks like something’s going on out there.” So, thanks.

  36. Hi, Gracie. I read your previous post on this matter and I just wanted to say you absolutely did the right thing. If you felt harassed, it means you were harassed. It is not the place of anyone else to tell you whether you have any right to feel offended by inappropriate comments. Moreover the fact that you used it as a teachable moment is a testament to your courage and commitment to teach your students better than to harass people. The way your dean responded is completely out of order. There is no reason for anyone to “ignore” such inappropriate behaviour. It is the fault of women like her that sexual harassment is viewed as an inconvenience and not as a crime. You’re in the right, and if you’re not, hell must be frozen over!

  37. Stop doubting yourself. No matter how the Dean reacted you cannot accept her ‘assumption’ as valid to what had occurred to you.
    I worked in a corporate environment and reported an incident to my employer. He was annoyed that he had to deal with it, and embarrassed that he was assigned by the home office to speak to the accused.
    Too bad, so sad, was my bit of logic.
    We live in a man’s world, but we do not play their ‘game.’ Nothing will ever change if we don’t stand up and hold those responsible, for their violations.
    You did the right thing. PERIOD!

  38. Wow, this was very informative and slightly depressing too. There is a long way to go for sexual minorities in this world but I’m glad there are women like you who refuse to go down without a fight! Hang in there and do keep us posted.

  39. Hey, I really liked this. I am in this place, where I am very shy, so I sneakily look at someone I am attracted to, but because I am either very withdrawn (nervous to the point that I can’t talk or move) about actually talking to them or they are not in the least bit attracted, it always ends badly. I only read the second part, so I don’t actually know what happened, but your reaction and the reaction of others speaks to me in that this is an issue of how you feel (which is valid) and so I am pretty much about to throw in the towel about meeting and talking to someone I am attracted to. I don’t know what they are thinking, but it is not worth the possibility of offending. I really like that you articulated this post-event well.

  40. I’ve worked at a University for several years and am a teacher (TEFL abroad before, aiming for professor at some point and starting my master’s degree this month). It’s so important that you continue to stand up for yourself and that you continue to share your story. Although I’ve never experienced sexual harassment at my job as an advisor for university students, I was harassed quite a lot when I was teaching in Chile. Some of the problem was almost certainly cultural, and I recognize that standards of treatment for women vary around the world. That doesn’t excuse my principal joking with everyone from my own parents to the minister of education for the region that I was his “pretty little wife.” I was 23, just graduated from university, and unsure how to handle the situation. The worst part was that the women in the room laughed at his jokes, too.

    Sexual harassment simply has no place in classrooms, and the more people like you stand up to it and speak out about it, the more apparent that will become. I will remember your story when it happens to me in the future.

  41. I love the follow up. You are insanely brave. This story is fabulous… in fact, it already feels like a movie I’m watching. But now I’m worried about the fall out. Would love to know how this student feeling now that (his? her?) comment has generated so much bruhaha. Is your job in jeopardy? Will GOOD THINGS come of this? Will you be harassed further? Is the Dean reading this? Will she tell you to stop blogging about it? Should you?

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