Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The R Word

Coming back into Ohio, as well as into the academic setting after so long in the workplace and in California was a huge adjustment that I have talked about many times (and probably more to come). I have learned a great deal about myself, my husband, in addition to valuable lessons on trust, integrity, and commitment. One of the most important lessons, however; has been running through my mind frequently over the past two summer months. This is one on a word we all know: RESPECT.

Everyone wants it. Everyone thinks they deserve it. But a very small handful seem to understand that they have to earn it.

I attended this university as an undergrad, and took courses from many of the professors who are still here today. Some are in the same positions, others are not. Perhaps it is the time I spent away from academia, or this university, or this State in general. Perhaps it's that I am older and been in different environments. Or perhaps it's always been this way, and I did not see it.

I can't respect people who throw out racist comments that visibly make others uncomfortable. I just can't. Especially when this comes from someone who should know better. There are a million excuses, but the bottom line is this: with great power comes great responsibility. And that responsibility involves being aware of comments you make in reference to race. Period. I know that I can't respect that.

But what if that person is in a position that deserves respect?

I can respect your position and your authority, as long as I am in a position below you. But I can't respect you as a person. And as one continues down this path, it becomes increasingly difficult to respect you in your position. Know your place. And adapt your behavior to it appropriately. Then I will respect you.

In addition to being a student, I am a teacher. I have taught a diverse group of students over the past 2 semesters and summer session. I have had amazing students in all my labs, both majors and non majors. And not so amazing ones.

Let's set the record straight. I respect your position as a student. I realize that entering the world of higher learning as a freshman is difficult and everyone comes from different cultural, social, and academic backgrounds. I understand that my class is not your only class, but please don't expect me to hand out pity because you "can't get out of bed on time".

I was an undergrad once. I know it's hard. I know it's overwhelming. I know you are dealing with a mountain of changes in your life. I respect that. I also know how hard it is to have a family and be a student. I respect your position in being a parent first. I understand the importance of that role. What I do not respect is all your excuses for not coming to class. You know what? I respect honesty. You know what I don't respect? A sense of entitlement. You could be a genius. You could go on to make brilliant scientific discoveries like curing cancer. Until then, please remember, you are a student, my student. And I am going to give you all due respect. And I do mean all DUE respect. Truth be told, I am pretty lenient and laid back. I let you make work up if you attempt to show you have respect for me, my time, and the course. If you acknowledge you are in the wrong and try to modify your behavior. I'm clear on my expectations from the start. 

Early in the last semester a student was mouthy with a professor of the class I sit in on The professor called him out on it, and rightly so. Later that afternoon, I got a call from the Department Chair wanting to know what had happened and what I thought of the situation. A student had complained. I told the truth. The student was out of line, big time and deserved to be called out. I didn't think the fully tenured, experienced professor who had taught me many years ago was wrong. This professor was clear on his personality and methods and expectations from the beginning. I came to find out that the student that complained about the professor being offensive was not even the student called out in class. That particular actually apologized for his behavior after class. And all of a sudden the Chair starts showing up in class to monitor the professor, not telling him of his intentions. W.T.F. 

The lack of respect in that situation made me sick to my stomach.

These situations got me thinking about how my son will behave in class. How he will learn respect. I can tell you this much. If my son spoke to a professor in that manner, I would be appalled and angry. And embarrassed because that is a reflection on me. If my son made racist comments in a public setting and wasn't an elderly man from the deep South  (not that that makes racism ok, but makes it understandable that he thought that type of remark was ok. The person that made this comment was not those things), I would feel the same.

The bottom line is this. No matter what position you are in, respect needs to be earned. And respect needs to be given to those positions above you. You may not respect the person, but respect authority. And then set the example to change the behavior.

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