Tuesday, November 24, 2009

White Male Privilege

I'm sick of it. I've really been examining my own privilege as a white, middle class, hetero female, but I've experienced a lot of the above lately.

Today, I finished teaching classes and walked into the department chair's office. He asked if the student interested in dropping my class had found me. I stated that I had just finished class and that no, I had not. Another instructor said that the student has been there for hours. I advised that had the student checked my schedule, she would have been aware that I was in class. The chair informed me that her father was with me and named the student. I said, "Ah. The student who stopped coming a month into class. Now she wants to drop a week and a half before finals." The instructor stated that he was actually related to the girl and that she had been ill and that she was "just a freshman." I informed him that I had many freshman and that I had talked to other ill students who had dropped in a timely manner. The chair was very supportive and said it was totally up to me as to whether or not I would give her a "Q" or fail her.

I walked back to my office thinking about it as, according to my syllabus and policies, the girl has already failed in my mind. Within minutes, the girl and her father stepped into my office. I invited them to sit. The girl did; the father did not (notice body politics at play here). I advised that she had already failed my class. She explained that she had "messed up" and just wanted another chance. I advised that she could petition for a grade replacement and that it would not affect her GPA if she took it successfully. Her father then broke in, respectfully but forcefully, stating that she was having problems with depression and that he wasn't even aware that she wasn't attending class. Well, a. I don't believe him, and b. it doesn't matter. Figure it out. Get your stuff together. The point, however, is that I signed the drop slip: I signed it with a "Q."

I am furious with myself. I'm angry that another (male) instructor would comment on my policy or the student. I'm angry that the student's father came down here. I'm angry that he tried to play on my sympathies. I'm angry that I gave in. I'm angry that as a young teacher, I felt compelled to give in. I don't like it at all. I'm most upset with myself, but I am also furious that I should have to feel somehow wrong (because her father was there) for wanting to fail her. I'm angry that he came as a white middle class, well-dressed male and laid his privilege out on my desk, and I'm angry that I succumbed to that privilege.

I'm ready for the semester to be over, and I wish I could take it back.


laprofe63 said...

Some battles are not worth fighting. But the war is, in this case against male (often, but not exclusively white) privilege. Still, I wouldn't feel as if my integrity as an instructor /professor was so compromised in this instance. That said, in moments like those I like to try and ignore the parent(s) and speak to the other adult in room. So s/he gets it that parents aren't always going to swoop in and save the day. The lesson is almost always the same: I let them know that avoidance is a bad policy in life, and all s/he had to do was communicate with me. An employer will expect the same thing.

jrav said...

Thanks for the vote of confidence. I did direct most of the conversation to the student but felt uncomfortable as her father stood over us. Plus, I had very little warning and so felt a bit ambushed.

Oh well, I guess I'll just chalk it down to experience.

S/Z said...

1) First, let's just say that the first thing *I* thought, out of this whole story was that your department chair sounds like a really great, supportive person. (I am intending that comment to be riddled with multiple layers irony, particularly given the blog topic, la la la...)
2) I'm not going to say "you did the right thing," because I guess as you were pointing out, in one way or another, the "right thing" is really unclear here, where any action you take is bound up in a vast web of troublesome issues. But, that said, I think about it this way -- Look at your real options here, give the "Q" or give the "F." Since the student is going to HAVE to re-take it anyway, and therefore grade replace either grade, the "real" consequences are negligible, what's at stake are only imaginary consequences! Whenever that is the case, I usually go with the consequence that "seems" more lenient, because that is the kind of thing that tends to encourage students to do better, and continue with their education. In that sense, and that sense only, you certainly made the right choice. An imaginary choice, but right nonetheless.

Bamph said...

I read your story and I just couldnt stop laughing after I read the last part about how angry you were that you fell for his "Male Privilage".
Ha ha ha ha. Oh Jeezus!! I'm still laughing.
But wait, wait.. Let me suggest that what realy happened was'nt that a man used the alleged, horror of horrors, "Male Privilage".. But instead you simply caved.
Yep, you caved like a spinless twit. you could have stood your ground and held to your policy but you wilted like a little, flower with no water that has been left out in the hot sun.
Think about it for a sec.
What would have happened if you had not succumed to your spinlessness? What would that big awfull man have done?
What? Do you think he would have hit you or something?
You caved and it pissed you off and so instead of taking responsibility for your own weakness you have chosen instead to blame the man and claim victim status. And all because you are a spinless twit.
Open your eyes idiot.