Monday, October 1, 2007

The Calm after the Storm (and before the Meeting)

So I'm feeling much, much less upset about the awful student thing. Thank you, everyone, for your ideas and support. I've now spoken with my department chair, division chair, and dean; they all had slightly different approaches to the situation, so I'm still deciding what to do.

I don't think that I'm going to move to kick the student out of my class, at this point (if he does anything else, though, that might happen). That probably wouldn't be in his or my best interests, since he has a lot of friends in the class, and he might end up just feeling stifled for having unpopular views. This is not my primary concern, but it does figure into my calculations.

The best (realistic) outcome of this whole situation would be if he were to learn that saying and writing such things is totally unacceptable and wouldn't do anything else to press these points in class, ever. Ideally, of course, he would also rethink his views of women. The latter is unlikely to happen anytime soon, however, and my kicking him out of the class is very unlikely to reform him at all--although, again, that is definitely a secondary or even tertiary consideration.

So. What to do? Well, two options. (1) I can have a formal meeting with him and another campus authority in which we take the "This is hate speech and will not be tolerated" approach. In this scenario, I wield my power like a mighty ax and emphasize the awfulness of what he's saying, how it makes people uncomfortable, etc. Or (2) I can meet with him one-on-one and discuss how what he's written is not a good example of persuasive writing, the importance of taking one's audience into account, and how such vitriol is precisely what alienated him from the article he's responding to in the first place. I could then move into talking about the effects of using sexist language in class, and how that's unacceptable and will not be tolerated in the future.

In both scenarios, he re-writes the paper.

At the moment I'm actually leaning towards no. 2, with the intention of watching his future papers and comments very closely and also of talking to his coach to make sure that this isn't part of a visible pattern of behavior (because obviously it's part of some larger pattern, unless he's really just trying to upset me, which I doubt). The upside of no. 2 is that he might actually learn something, and the fallout for me will be less: like I say, he has a lot of friends in that class. And if I present it as calmly and professionally as I intend to, then he'll be denied any satisfaction that he might have hoped to derive from upsetting me--if that was, in fact, his intention.

The downside is that I'm not sure I feel that this is a strong enough course of action. It was the one that the dean recommended, however, and she made some good arguments in its favor. (She read the paper, so she knows what we're dealing with.)

It would also be the easiest for me to carry out, frankly.

Anyway. At this point I'm calm, my rage has burnt itself out (thank God), and I'm ready to just settle this. I feel okay now, though. I was having some serious "I can't do this" feelings on Saturday night, and now those have dissipated; classes today were perfectly acceptable, and I'm not getting down on myself about any of this. I mean, one kind of nice thing is that there's no conceivable way I can blame myself for any aspect of this situation; I know that's sort of an odd thing to be comforted by, but it is a relief. My teaching is not at issue here. It's some other big scary thing instead.

Yikes. It's comforting in a rather selfish way, I suppose.


Belle said...

I wonder; if he'd said such things about a racial or religious group, would the same options be considered? It is hate speech; you may well be the first time he's dared to spout off.

So while I understand the less dramatic response, I'm wondering. We do tend to relegate anti-female hate speech to a minor act. Would we react the same way if he came out with 'whites are superior and I'd never tolerate a black in a position of authority' with the same reasonableness?

Just a question. I'm with you whichever way you go.

Hilaire said...

You know, I was thinking about exactly what Belle said.

That said, I do think #2 is a good option. Possibly the best available to you. Ultimately, we want to engage people, not shut them down.

Supporting you whatever you choose to do...


Sisyphus said...

Good luck! I agree with whoever said, document, document, document, in the last post.

What has the response of other students been? (when he mouths off.) Does it seem at all common or usual to them, or is he rapidly shaping up to be "the jerk" of the room? I had a really weird guy in one of my classes and students just stopped engaging him completely once it became clear to us all that he wasn't quite all there ---- whereas I've had students who seem to actually be saying "what we're all thinking," according to some of my students, and the classroom dynamic is very different. Don't know if noticing that helps any, but it's more info to work with.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

I'll jump on the #2 bandwagon as well: it's the one option of the two that leaves the door open to him actually learning something, should he choose to do so. But I don't think this precludes you bringing up the fact that misogynistic writing is, in fact, hate speech, in that it stereotypes an entire group of people in a way that is throroughly negative. You could point out the logical fallacy inherent in this type of "argument," and thus show him how the use of language like this automatically undercuts any point he's trying to make.

Of course, deep in my heart, I think that this is probably giving him more credit than he deserves. But this is the CYA portion of this little drama. And, as Belle suggested in the comments to the previous post, document everything.

squadratomagico said...

It seems to me that #2 is the correct first response, with option #1, of bringing in higher authorities, so to speak, a good backup for the future, if needed.

And... I hate to bring this up, but be careful about this kid. People who have a lot of hatred and anger can sometimes be dangerous. It's a remote possibility that the kid will turn violent, but one worth taking seriously. all the same.

What Now? said...

I'll echo the previous comments: The 2nd option does provide the opportunity for him to learn something valuable. Also, some students try to push boundaries (in a way they should be beyond by college, but ...); I've occasionally had students who write something they know I'll find offensive just to see how I'll react, and when I basically follow the #2 scenario and treat the whole thing calmly as a composition issue (fallacies, failure to consider audience, distraction from the topic of the essay, etc.), they haven't gotten their thrill and mostly shape up. And if he spouts this kind of speech again, you and the campus authorities will be obviously justified in responding with greater force because you took this lesser step at this stage.

And for what it's worth, I think I would take the same approach if he were writing about race or religion. I can't say that for sure, not having been in the situation, but I think that's what I'd do.

Ancrene Wiseass said...

I support whichever you decide to do: both approaches are reasonable. But please, please, please, if you decide on #2, make absolutely certain that you are in a public place and that there are other people around.

First, you want witnesses who will testify that your behavior isn't inappropriate, just in case you need them. Second, yeah, this kid's anger could just be generalized adolescent rebellion/aggression--but it could also be something much, much uglier. Don't be alone with him.

heu mihi said...

Thank you, everyone, for your support and thoughts. It's been really helpful for me to deal with this through the blog forum, actually.

I'm meeting with him tomorrow morning, in my office, with the door open. I've checked with faculty in a couple of the adjoining offices to make sure that they'll be around at that time, and they've been extremely supportive. So, just in case, I do have backup.