I would like an Incomplete in your class b/c my father and I think you are teaching homosexuality. I go to college to learn things that will help me in the real world not to be brainwashed.
This was shoved under my office door this morning when I arrived on campus by a student I have received an endless stream of emails from and about all weekend.
There are two issues behind her note:
First – The course in question is an intro level queer studies course for the minor and/or concentration in queer studies within the women’s studies and American studies majors at my uni. Through some effort, it has also been approved as a cross-listed elective in Ethnic Studies and has traditionally been used to build a concentration in queer studies within that department as well as the history department. It has a strong media based component that encourages students to think it will be an “easy A” and also encourages intro level media studies folks to take it. Finally, it also fulfills two GenEds for the uni and has the word “queer” in the title. In other words, we get a wide cross-section of students in the course the majority of whom are there because they are either questioning learned beliefs about sexuality or b/c they have already decided what they wish to concentrate on in their future studies. All of them are clear on the subject matter of the course from title to description to first day overview.
Second – The conflict that pre-dated this email is between students doing a group final in which the entire group has argued this person was an absentee member except on the first session. At least one of the group members forwarded an email from the student who in which she also admits this but believes that their topic, LBT Chicana poets, was “her idea” and thus she has “contributed to the process.” In the same email, she points out that she volunteered to do the presentation in class and needs them to send her the presentation so she can “do her part.” They refused; she email bombed my email account from Sunday night until Monday morning demanding I do something about her group and give her a free pass on the final.
This is why I hate group work and actively refuse to let them do it. Unfortunately, this term I had no choice b/c the section has been expanded as part of the budget crisis to ensure more students can take the intro courses at once so fewer sections have to be offered. (Fewer sections = fewer paid grad students or adjuncts.) To mediate this, I made all of the groups sign an agreement that they would abide by an average of the grades each member gave the others (along with an accompanying explanation as to how that grade was derived) and a presentation grade for the group based on the basic criteria for a final in the course outlined on the syllabus.
My first inclination is to write the student back:
I am teaching homosexuality, tho not in the way that you likely mean, and certainly not well if this is the way you have chosen to get out of class. The title of the course and the syllabus should have indicated the content of the course to you, ie that we would be learning about homosexuality, which in turn requires me to teach it.
If I were capable of washing out your brain, I would have a much higher paying job in Public Relations or perhaps working for the government in a less morally repugnant position than the one you have currently put me in to escape your own failure to work cooperatively with your final presentation team.
As it is, I can only tell you that you will not be granted an incomplete on the basis of your request. However, in order to avoid the drawn out drama between yourself, your fellow students, and the homophobic administration, I will be happy to give you the C- you earned on the midterm and ignore the “F” your group unanimously gave you and the absence of a required final presentation either in a group or on your own.
Sadly, I will be having a meeting with the girl and her father tomorrow morning (when I should be completing the grading for both classes and doing final pass overs of the thesis I have to read so I can turn in honors paper work before May graduation paper work is due). As is often the case at Pov U, the bulk of that meeting will be spent mediating homophobia instead of dealing with her performance. I remain unclear as to whether her homophobia starts and stops at raising the spectre of reverse discrimination to get out of her lack luster performance in the class or whether it is ultimately the reason for that performance. All I know is that I never get less tired of these moments when sexuality, race, or gender seem to be the easy fall back positions to mask intellectual failing. That and the fact that for all my negative reaction to this scribble, I still can’t help but feel like I failed to”teach homosexuality” to a person who clearly needed it more than many others in the class.