I recently attended my drama graduation, a sort of semi-formal event that my faculty at university holds for graduates. It’s not convocation, but more a chance for students to share what they love with their families so that they can get a better sense of what their program is like, since that doesn’t really happen at convocation. Professors speak a bit about each program, and about each student graduating from the program.
The speaker for my program is a professor that many people dislike because of how outspoken she is, in a not-so-sensitive manner. She once said that she gets in trouble because of her mouth… and soon my class discovered what that meant. She tends to pigeonhole people into categories in her mind, reducing them to stereotypes and saying particularly racist or just plain rude comments. In a one-on-one discussion about a rehearsal I had during a directing class, she told me that I do a little, “I’m a nice little brown girl,” act and can be too nice.
I know I can be too nice, but really, that comment was uncalled for and condescending. Why is my skin colour related to me being nice? Are brown people all “nice” and “little”? What was “little” supposed to mean? In the moment, I just laughed because I was so caught off guard, and later I was infuriated. She made comments about Asians and things as well, and on one such occasion I very openly was upset with her — I didn’t actually say anything, but I think the expression on my face was enough, and she reacted. I don’t doubt that she has heard plenty of what my classmates and I said about her in our own personal discussions, as I am not the only one who had a problem with the way she behaved, but I honestly have no problem with that. She probably needed to hear it. It was disrespectful. And she knows it.
This is not to say that she is not a wonderful teacher with plenty of useful insight. I learned a lot from her and have a grown a lot in each of the classes I took with her. She’s still one of the three most influential teachers I think I had at university, and we have a positive relationship. In fact, she has helped me get through school; she nominated me for a scholarship that I won, and she has provided with me reference letters for applications for more scholarships and jobs, which I am of course very grateful for.
But that doesn’t mean that I don’t think she needs to change how she treats other people. And this, again, I think she knows.
Now, having been our speaker at our grad, she wrote haikus for each of us in the program. I’d like to share mine.
You didn’t see her?
Quietly flexing her biceps.
Fool. She saw you.
Hmmm… I have to say, I think she learned something from me, too.