Thursday, September 24, 2009

Learning Bravery

I was pissed. Yesterday was one of those days where it seems that everyone and everything exists to annoy the living shit out of you. In short order,

- a student complained about his grade...a B-.
- a student told me she might have to drop my class. Why? Because men were harassing her on the way home.

I got called into my supervisor's office and told, in fairly explicit terms, that "a" student felt intimidated by me. Not because I'm perhaps smarter than him, or more talented, or more experienced, or in a position of power. No, this student is intimidated because I'm black. "Let's face it, you don't look like me." The B- was too harsh. The pressure of getting a grade might stifle his creativity. 

A student in my other class wrote to say she had a late night class on Tues/Thur. She's been getting harassed while walking home. The only other section of that class conflicts with my class. She could switch, but she'd have to drop my class.

Where, I wondered, were the faculty on this one? There were no administrators looking in on the case, no powerful faculty giving her an ear or me some direction. There were apparently no security guards or police telling these men to leave this student alone. No, she has to drop a class, while another student complains about a B-.

This was gut check time. I swore up and down when I came here that I was going to grad school to become a better writer. I was not out to right the wrongs of this University. I was not going to "fix" anyone or anything but myself and my own writing. My career must come first. And yet, this amazing sense of privilege and entitlement just burns me. Seeing a smart, creative black man is not "intimidating". Try being that man, teaching and learning in a building named after a KKK Grand Wizard. Or bringing up African American writers in workshops and seeing blank stares. Or having to call out others on their racism, and getting told that I'm "playing the race card". Or living through "Confederate Day", when the local frats dress up in old uniforms and parade around the campus. That's what I call intimidating. 

I want to quit. I already have my next job, and this - this is not helping me write. I want to fight it out. All of our talk about privilege and justice is meaningless unless we actually put that shit into practice. I want to take the good, hardworking students and pass out A's like candy, and flunk the rest. And I can't do any of that. I have to remember my priorities, my professionalism, and my goals.

I wasn't feeling great about my decision this morning, but then I got a message from my female student. Given the option of harassment or dropping my class, she decided to stay in "the best class I've taken here." We're talking about escorts and other transportation options.Well if she can be so unintimidated, then so can I. 

Gotta go teach now.