Teaching Homosexuality

Dear Professor,

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.

sincerely

student

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:

Dear Student,

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.

sincerely

Your Professor

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.

Any thoughts?

5 thoughts on “Teaching Homosexuality

  1. The only coherent thought in my mind is that there is no correlation between requesting an incomplete and disagreeing with the content and the purpose of a class.

    Incoherent thoughts:
    Too bad a student in college cannot think independently enough from her father.
    Too bad a student in college cannot study queer culture and ideas without purporting to being demoralized or even recruited.
    Too bad she doesn’t understand what the real world is.
    Your letter is so kind!
    She should engage with the class during class sessions and in individual assignments.
    I wonder whether you should meet with the student and the parent without another person — an ally — present.
    Unless I’m writing too late and it’s already happened?
    I would ask the student to conduct herself appropriately within an educational community.
    I would demand that the student treat you with more respect.
    I would offer to talk about the crisis she’s creating, refer her to people who might help her, and cut her off when and if the conversation is no longer productive.
    I would not negotiate beyond that.

  2. Ay ay ay. Condolences. I guess the meeting’s already happened – how did it go?

    I’d actually be inclined to send a simplified (dumbed down?) version of the e-mail. I don’t know that I’d be right – it’s just my inclination.

  3. I don’t think you should feel at all like a failure. This is a student who signed up for “an intro level queer studies course,” and then failed to complete a large portion of the work. (You’ve got all of the documentation of this in her e-mails, I assume, as well as testimony from her group.) She’s using homophobia as a distraction and an excuse, when of course she could have avoided dealing at all with queer studies BY NOT SIGNING UP FOR THE COURSE IN THE FIRST PLACE.

    Let her have it.

  4. Well, that just sucks (and it’s an “accusation” I often received at my former Texas gig). My only advice is to try to use our litigious society to your advantage. The syllabus nowadays is considered a contract. If you explained the course content and goals in that document, then (by staying enrolled) the student gave consent to be bound by it. They can’t call foul at the end of the semester.

    One really needs the support of the dean’s office, though.

  5. @sisonalidio – on the surface your “coherent thought” makes sense; it is obvious blame shifting. Underneath tho, sometimes students do fail b/c they are “uncomfortable” with the subject matter; I’m sure you’ve seen this where you are too.

    I agree with your “incoherent thoughts.” Parental enmeshment is really getting out of hand regardless of what type of school you teach at and something about the current climate (or at least growing up 8 years under the previous admin) has convinced students and parents alike that if something makes them “uncomfortable” than someone is force feeding them an agenda. When I was student being confronted with new things was my favorite part; isn’t that what learning is?

    @profacero – it went as expected, lots of deflection and “my tax dollars pay for !!!!” The good news is that we had a shift in leadership during my sabbatical 2yr ago and the new leadership supports 2 things: 1. educational involvement, ie students are responsible for their learning and for all info on the syllabus, 2. anti-oppressions work as core to the entire department’s curriculum. So, the Chair had already met w/the student on Monday (since I dared not to be in my office) and had already told her that her performance was at issue but that ultimately, I would have final say. Once confronted w/the paperwork, the father seemed to get that she had no leg to stand on and dialed it down but not before using a choice slur or two.

    @historiann – thanks.

    When of course she could have avoided dealing at all with queer studies BY NOT SIGNING UP FOR THE COURSE IN THE FIRST PLACE.

    perhaps this sentence was the “dumbed down version” (ie concise version) of the email Profacero suggests.😀 Nevertheless, I think there is a reason she signed up for the course and why her father was ultimately involved in the decision to try and get out of it . . .

    @gayprof – you know, it’s nice to be working under a Chair who gets diversity and therefore does not allow homophobic statements to confuse the issue of the syllabus and educational requirements. A few years ago, this would have been headed to the Dean and you’ve read my posts on campus climate . . .

    TO ALL – thanks for the support!!!😀 Honestly, these moments are pretty regular at pov u, so I am less phased by them than I used to be and yet this note did rattle me and the father’s unabashed homophobia @ the meeting was a whole other level. Needless to say, I am looking forward to May

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